Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Science of morality

Robyn Williams at the ABC was kind enough to allow me to record an essay for its Radio National programme, Ockham's Razor.

You can listen to the podcast here.

The topic is a general look at the science of morality, covering such things as the origins of altruism, moral reasoning and the possibility of an innate moral faculty. I also refer to the groundbreaking work done by Jonathan Haidt and Marc Hauser on moral sentiments and an innate moral faculty, respectively.

Being an essay, it also gave me an opportunity to mention angle of great interest to me: if we indeed do possess an evolved moral faculty and innate moral sentiments, are entirely appropriate in today's world? One clear example is our tendency to classify people as us or them.

If it turns out that these tendencies contribute to conflict and general human suffering, should we look to actively contradict them? Certainly we do so when it comes to sweet foods. And yet we're undergoing an obesity epidemic in the West these days, so we're obviously not faring too well in that fight.

Reiterating my closing comments in the essay, I feel we're only scratching the surface of the science of morality. But it's a crucially important field, and even if we don't like the truths it might uncover - or refuse to confront them - we ignore them at our peril.


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