Thursday, April 03, 2008

Hardwired morality

Very interesting discussion between Paul Bloom, a psychologist from Yale, and Joshua Knobe, philosopher from UNC. Particularly in the first section, they talk about the intersection of moral philosophy and psychological research.

What I find interesting about this discussion is that while Knobe makes some interesting observations, in my opinion it's the psychologist Bloom that is shedding more light on the roots of morality - AND he backs it up with actual evidence from experiments.

Why did philosophy not think of working like this before?

This discussion also touches on a lot of the ideas and research that I'm investigating for my own PhD on the evolution of morality.

Two researchers named by Bloom are Jonathan Haidt and Marc Hauser. Haidt has done some fascinating research on psychological universals that relate to morality. One example is his research into disgust, which appears to function across cultures, although the content of what inspires disgust certainly changes across cultures. This may provide us with some insight into what aspects of moral psychology are hardwired and universal (a disgust reaction) and which aspects are variable (the content, such as whether it's eating dogs or cremating your dead).

Hauser has written a book that has been very influential on me called Moral Minds. It expounds a theory that we have a hardwired faculty for morality in a similar way that Chomsky suggested we have a hardwired faculty for language and grammar.

The question then becomes how the faculty enables a moral system to emerge from base moral sentiments, and how culture affects this process? Also - and this is an area I'm very interested in exploring in my own research - is how this can explain immoral behaviour? But we'll leave that for another day.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home