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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Morality (Book Chapter)

Jonathan Haidt and Selin Kesebir
Handbook of Social Psychology. (2010) 3:III:22.

Here is a portion of the conclusion:

 The goal of this chapter was to offer an account of what morality really is, where it came from, how it works, and why McDougall was right to urge social psychologists to make morality one of their fundamental concerns. The chapter used a simple narrative device to make its literature review more intuitively compelling: It told the history of moral psychology as a fall followed by redemption. (This is one of several narrative forms that people spontaneously use when telling the stories of their lives [McAdams, 2006]). To create the sense of a fall, the chapter began by praising the ancients and their virtue - based ethics; it praised some early sociologists and psychologists (e.g., McDougall, Freud, and Durkheim) who had “ thick ” emotional and sociological conceptions of morality; and it praised Darwin for his belief that intergroup competition contributed to the evolution of morality. The chapter then suggested that moral psychology lost these perspectives in the twentieth century as many psychologists followed philosophers and other social scientists in embracing rationalism and methodological individualism. Morality came to be studied primarily as a set of beliefs and cognitive abilities, located in the heads of individuals, which helped individuals to solve quandaries about helping and hurting other individuals. In this narrative, evolutionary theory also lost something important (while gaining much else) when it focused on morality as a set of strategies, coded into the genes of individuals, that helped individuals optimize their decisions about cooperation and defection when interacting with strangers. Both of these losses or “ narrowings ” led many theorists to think that altruistic acts performed toward strangers are the quintessence of morality.

The book chapter is here.

This chapter is an excellent summary for students or those beginning to read on moral psychology.