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week 5

Steven Pinker’s “The Moral Instinct”

What makes something moral or immoral? Are things that are immoral in one culture, immoral in another? In the article “The Moral Instinct,” written by experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and science author Steven Pinker, the virtue of morality is explored. He discusses various aspects of human moralization and how it is applied, almost subconsciously, to everyday life. Moralization is described by Pinker as, “a psychological state that can be turned on and off like a switch” that effects our choices and opinions habitually. Various behaviors dubbed “immoral” by one group or another, are introduced by Pinker and are picked apart. He questions why something like consensual incest, that in a specific case has no possibility of producing offspring or causing damage to either party or the community, is still considered immoral. The lines between something being distasteful, illegal, or immoral are often blurred in society, along with how society justifies its rationalizations when condemning the said subject. Pinker describes how people often make judgments based on morality and beliefs first, then work in reverse to try and rationalize why the decision they made was the correct one. Pinker and various other scientists try to make a connection to genes and morality, claiming there is “circumstantial evidence they exist.”

Pinker uses various techniques in his essay to keep the reader interested in the subject. Although Pinker is writing about a somewhat serious subject, he interjects various comedic comments that allow the article to flow while entertaining. He also includes various questions and scenarios that beg the reader’s attention and personal reflection. I feel that although Pinker’s essay was intriguing and made me question many of the things that both I and society dub immoral, the article struggled to keep me interested toward the end. The various subjects that he touched upon that discussed morality and the science of it, could have easily been condensed into fewer paragraphs.

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