Friday, May 18, 2012

Morality Week: What I've Been Reading

Open Parachute has been featuring a couple posts on morality I rather like. The first breaks down a recent survey of “Religious and Social Attitudes of UK Christians in 2011.”

The survey asked the question “When it comes to right and wrong, which of the following if any, do you most look to for guidance?" The pie chart to the left breaks down the responses. Personally, I would have answered my moral sense, but also admit that my sense is guided by philosophy and reason. I doubt I could choose more than one answer, but I'm difficult like that.

I also enjoyed Open Parachute's post talking about the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Both the author of the book and the author of the blog are clearly more versed with this stuff than I. I may need to revisit Morality Week after I'm more well read.

I've also read the consensus statement signed by several scholars (list below) which came from a conference titled "The New Science of Morality." Personally, I don't know anything about which areas of the brain are responsible for morality, but otherwise I'd sign it too.
  1. Morality is a natural phenomenon and a cultural phenomenon
  2. Many of the psychological building blocks of morality are innate
  3. Moral judgments are often made intuitively, with little deliberation or conscious weighing of evidence and alternatives
  4. Conscious moral reasoning plays multiple roles in our moral lives
  5. Moral judgments and values are often at odds with actual behavior
  6. Many areas of the brain are recruited for moral cognition, yet there is no "moral center" in the brain
  7. Morality varies across individuals and cultures
  8. Moral systems support human flourishing, to varying degrees
Signed by:
Roy Baumeister, Florida State University
Paul Bloom, Yale University
Joshua Greene, Harvard University
Jonathan Haidt, University of Virginia
Sam Harris, Project Reason
Joshua Knobe, Yale University
David Pizarro, Cornell University


  1. that's pretty interesting. My first thought was that my answer would be "my own inner moral sense". But "philosophy and reason" and "friends and family" would play into it as well. I think I still stick with my first answer, but the other 2 things play into my moral sense.

    I have conversations with my friends and family that change my moral sense, and those conversations usually include logic and reason. So the three things work together.

    My next thought was, could religious teaching work in the same way? If you believe that God tells you to do something and that is what is required to get to heaven and avoid hell, shouldn't you just do it no questions asked? It seems that logic and reason have no place in that scenario. Your own moral compass is irrelevant. Thankfully most religious people don't really do this.

  2. Realistically, I think almost everyone is actually drawing on that inner moral sense bestowed on us by natural selection. They just interpret its origin differently. How many people would actually take the advice of a parent or friend if it were to do something their own moral sense told them was flagrantly wrong? In practice most people (nowadays) don't even follow those "religious teachings and beliefs" if they clash with their inner moral sense. (Those who do are the kind of people who stand around with "God hates fags" signs or fly airplanes into buildings, and we consider them crazy.) If the holy book has something in it that outrages their moral sense, they ignore it or "interpret" it.

    One day we'll all be atheists, I'm just an early adopter.

    Strongly agree. I know some people consider it insanely optimistic to imagine religion ever disappearing completely, but I like to think big.