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How do morals change?

April 9, 2010

Paul Bloom in Nature:

Where does morality come from? The modern consensus on this question lies close to the position laid out by the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume. He thought moral reason to be “the slave of the passions”. Hume’s view is supported by studies that suggest that our judgements of good and evil are influenced by emotional reactions such as empathy and disgust. And it fits nicely with the discovery that a rudimentary moral sense is universal and emerges early. Babies as young as six months judge individuals on the way that they treat others and even one-year-olds engage in spontaneous altruism.

All this leaves little room for rational deliberation in shaping our moral outlook. Indeed, many psychologists think that the reasoned arguments we make about why we have certain beliefs are mostly post-hoc justifications for gut reactions. As the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt puts it, although we like to think of ourselves as judges, reasoning through cases according to deeply held principles, in reality we are more like lawyers, making arguments for positions that have already been established. This implies we have little conscious control over our sense of right and wrong. [More]

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 9, 2010 9:49 AM

    In light of e.g. the ideas of Kohlberg, the above seems a bit simplistic. (Even if the moral system of someone at stage 6 will likely be based in some inborn preferences.) See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kohlberg's_stages_of_moral_development

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