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Monday, June 8, 2015

Is Morality Innate?

By Jesse J. Prinz
Forthcoming in W. Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.), Moral Psychology. Oxford University Press

Here is an excerpt:

The link between morality and human nature has been a common theme since ancient times, and, with the rise of modern empirical moral psychology, it remains equally popular today. Evolutionary ethicists, ethologists, developmental psychologists, social neuroscientists, and even some cultural
anthropologists tend to agree that morality is part of the bioprogram (e.g., Cosmides & Tooby, 1992; de Waal, 1996; Haidt & Joseph, 2004; Hauser, 2006; Ruse, 1991; Sober & Wilson, 1998; Turiel, 2002). Recently, researchers have begun to look for moral modules in the brain, and they have been increasingly tempted to speculate about the moral acquisition device, and innate faculty for norm acquisition akin to celebrated language acquisition device, promulgated by Chomsky (Dwyer, 1999; Mikhail, 2000; Hauser, this volume). All this talk of modules and mechanism may make some shudder, especially if they recall that eugenics emerged out of an effort to find the biological sources of evil. Yet the tendency to postulate an innate moral faculty is almost irresistible. For one thing, it makes us appear nobler as a species, and for another, it offers an explanation of the fact that people in every corner of the globe seem to have moral rules. Moral nativism is, in this respect, an optimistic doctrine—one that makes our great big world seem comfortingly smaller.

The chapter is here.