The field of study is called “moral psychology.” It’s the study of why we have a moral sense and why we depart from our moral values sometimes and not at other times. Mike suggested we discuss a topic related to – but not equivalent to, necessarily, at least in my opinion – the basic questions moral psychologists try to answer: What does science tell us about “good” and “evil?”
I think they’re not the same because I’m assuming (I’m not sure, not my field) that moral psychology is like all science: It sets aside the idea of whether there is a supernatural force that shapes the natural world. If God or the devil is the source of our acts of good and evil, science cannot know that by definition, right? That is a matter for philosophy or religion, isn’t it?
Still, I like this topic precisely because it begs the question of whether good and evil, in both its individual and societal-level manifestations, can be understood by any one way of thinking about the world. I’m a little dubious that psychology or neurology or any –ology that we have now can fully explain human morality and behavior.
But, Mike had me read this very interesting book on the subject (Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, by Paul Bloom.) Armed with at least a little knowledge now, I’m looking forward to our discussion and to Mike’s brief opening remarks.
A note on links this week. I found a bunch of stuff on the science of morality and linked to what seemed like good ones below. But, since I am an ignoramus on this subject, I cannot vouch for how mainstream or accepted the points-of-view are, or whether I am excluding any major points of view or key findings in the field.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Philosophy is Out and moral psychology is In for explaining our morality.
- Just Babies reviewed by NYT.
- Six “surprising scientific findings on good and evil.” (Joshua Greene)
- Do babies have a sense of fairness? Yes.
- Has neuroscience proven that evil does not exist?
- Do genes make us good or evil? (Scientific American)
- Video! A 16-minute TED talk: “Our buggy (odd/contradictory) moral code.” (Dan Ariely)
Next Week: Is Pornography Changing Our Perceptions of Sexuality?