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Monday, November 11, 2013

Why Can't We All Just Get Along? The Uncertain Biological Basis of Morality

By Robert Wright
The Atlantic
November 2013

The article is really a review of several books.  However, it is not a formal book review, but compares and contrasts efforts by those studying morality, psychology, and biology.  Here are some excerpts:


The well-documented human knack for bigotry, conflict, and atrocity must have something to do with the human mind, and relevant parts of the mind are indeed coming into focus—not just thanks to the revolution in brain scanning, or even advances in neuroscience more broadly, but also thanks to clever psychology experiments and a clearer understanding of the evolutionary forces that shaped human nature. Maybe we’re approaching a point where we can actually harness this knowledge, make radical progress in how we treat one another, and become a species worthy of the title Homo sapiens.

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...the impulses and inclinations that shape moral discourse are, by and large, legacies of natural selection, rooted in our genes. Specifically, many of them are with us today because they helped our ancestors realize the benefits of cooperation. As a result, people are pretty good at getting along with one another, and at supporting the basic ethical rules that keep societies humming.

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When you combine judgment that’s naturally biased with the belief that wrongdoers deserve to suffer, you wind up with situations like two people sharing the conviction that the other one deserves to suffer. Or two groups sharing that conviction. And the rest is history. Rwanda’s Hutus and Tutsis, thanks to their common humanity, shared the intuition that bad people should suffer; they just disagreed—thanks to their common humanity—about which group was bad.

The entire article is here.
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