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Week Five – The Moral Instinct

Pinker’s article, “The Moral Instinct”, ponders the origins of the human idea of morality. Pinker gives us several examples of situations where our idea of “morality” isn’t exactly chalked up to the facts of the matter- Bill Gates and Norman Borlaug saved more people than Mother Teresa, but neither of them is looked at in the most favorable light. He then points out the difference between “moral reasoning” and “moral rationalization”, showing readers that humans more often engage in the latter to come to our concept of morality. He uses the Trolley Problem to further the point, and introduce the not-quite-satisfied concept of universal morality. On one hand, he says, empathy and “right-and-wrong” exist across all cultures, but specific boundaries for morality can’t be found to match up. To explain the discrepancy, Pinker cites what Haidt calls the “primary colors of our moral sense:” harm, fairness, community, purity, and authority, and the different values of importance different cultures place on them. He then goes to discussing the moral corrosiveness of the science of studying morality, and defending the study of our behaviors, and even crossing God off the list of defenders of morality.

This article was extremely interesting, especially after listening to Pinker’s TED talk. I was definitely concentrating more on what he was saying than how he was saying it, but I did notice that he didn’t use direct quotes from any other scientists, and thus, all his realizations were his own. Though I disagree, as everyone else does, and believe that my brand of morality is the right kind, I’ve been taught that morality is an ultimately subjective thing, and this article does challenge that. I’ve been faced with many forms of contemplations on morality before- including the Trolley Problem, and variations, like the Sinking Boat Problem that Pinker offhandedly mentions.


About Gib

I'm a college graduate with degrees in Biology and Political Science, and a minor in Bioengineering. I'm a self-taught programmer, and I love to learn.


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