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week 5

The Moral Instinct Summary

Why is it bad to harm others, but good to help them? Is it okay to kill one person in order to save five? Why is an unthinkable act to cut up a flag? These are all questions that were posed by Steven Pinker in the 2008 New York Times article “The Moral Instinct.” This article depicts moral sense as being the sixth sense, and describes why and how people rationalize ideas as being right or wrong. Moralization is a physiological state that commands our way of thinking and sets actions apart from being immoral, disagreeable, unfashionable and imprudent. It is an innate part of human nature that everyone shares common grounds with, but may also possibly be affected by DNA. The moral sense is universal, but varies with people’s own culture. Pinker describes harm, fairness, community, authority and purity as being “the primary colors” for our moral sense.  He explains that people tend to align their moralization with their own lifestyles. As a result of this, many people often begin with a conclusion due to an emotion, and then work backwards in order to justify or rationalize it. The human moral sense is very complex and as a result studies have been done on it to see how emotion does affect it. The M.R.I. machine found that three parts of the brain were affected by it: emotions, mental computation, and a conflict.

Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist, and popular science author. He is known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the theory of mind. As a result, he is very informed on the subject, and is most likely writing to a general audience because moral sense is universal and something that everyone can relate to. Pinker writes in a serious tone, but this essay is purely scientific as he does not provide any personal “color” to it. Pinker starts off his article with a general question about figures that everyone has heard of, which is an effective strategy to grab the reader’s attention. Additionally, throughout the article, he does not simply state all his points, but instead provides ample examples, and poses questions that promote thought. By doing so, I believe Pinker is able to address his points and portray the complexity of the concept of morality to his readers.



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