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Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Tragedy of Common-Sense Morality

Evolution didn’t equip us for modern judgments.

By Tiffany O'Callaghan
The New Scientist
Originally published December 14, 2013

Our instincts don't always serve us well. Moral psychologist Joshua Greene explains why, in the modern world, we need to figure out when to put our sense of right and wrong in manual mode. His new book is Moral Tribe: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them.

Tiffany O’Callaghan: You say morality is more than it evolved to be. What do you mean?

Joshua Greene: Morality is essentially a suite of psychological mechanisms that enable us to cooperate. But, biologically at least, we only evolved to cooperate in a tribal way. Individuals who were more moral—more cooperative with those around them—could outcompete others who were not. However, we have the capacity to take a step back from this and ask what a more global morality would look like. Why are the lives of people on the other side of the world worth any less than those in my immediate community? Going through that reasoning process can allow our moral thinking to do something it never evolved to.

TO: So we need to be able to switch from intuitive morality to more considered responses? When should we use which system?

JG: When it’s a matter of me versus us, my interests versus those of others, our instincts do pretty well. They don't do as well when it’s us versus them, my group’s interests and values versus another group’s. Our moral intuitions didn’t evolve to solve that problem in an even-handed way. When groups disagree about the right thing to do, we need to slow down and shift into manual mode.

The entire article is here.
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