Autumn books: innate morality

Nature‘s Autumn books issue came out last week. I enjoyed all the reviews, virtually all of which are of books that can be read and appreciated if you are not a scientist, so I’m going to post about them here in a series of posts. Nature content is site-licence or subscription only, so if you want to read the entire text of a review and aren’t a subscriber, let me know in the comments and I will tell you how.

First up, in an article entitled "The Chomsky of morality" Paul Bloom and Izzat Jarudi review  "Moral Minds: How nature designed our universal sense of right and wrong", by Marc Hauser.

From the review:

"In Moral Minds, Marc Hauser makes an audacious claim about moral thought. He argues that morality is best understood in much the same way as Noam Chomsky described language: as the product of an innate and universal mental faculty. For Hauser, moral intuition is not the product of culture and education, nor is it the result of rational and deliberative thought, nor does it reduce to the workings of the emotions. Instead, it is human nature to unconsciously and automatically evaluate the moral status of human actions: to judge them as right or wrong, allowed or forbidden, optional or obligatory.

As Hauser is careful to point out, he is not the first to make the leap from a chomskyan theory of language to a chomskyan theory of morality: this analogy was proposed by the political philosopher John Rawls, the legal scholar John Mikhail of Georgetown University in Washington DC, and by Chomsky himself. But Moral Minds is the first detailed exploration of this idea. It is a trade book, highly accessible to a general audience and drawing on diverse examples from literature, popular culture and history. But it is also a deeply significant intellectual contribution: everything that’s done in the new science of moral psychology in the coming years is going to be a response to this important and enjoyable work."

It’s an excellent review of what seems to be a fascinating book.