Monday, May 10, 2010

Out of the Eyes of Babes

The Moral Life of Babies. Are babies born with a sense of right and wrong? What does this mean for our society? Yale Professor Paul Bloom and colleagues outline some fascinating findings. And this bit, highlighting cultural differences and judgment, as an introduction to more baby exploration:
The truths of physics and psychology are universal: objects obey the same physical laws everywhere; and people everywhere have minds, goals, desires and beliefs. But the existence of a universal moral code is a highly controversial claim; there is considerable evidence for wide variation from society to society.

In the journal Science a couple of months ago, the psychologist Joseph Henrich and several of his colleagues reported a cross-cultural study of 15 diverse populations and found that people’s propensities to behave kindly to strangers and to punish unfairness are strongest in large-scale communities with market economies, where such norms are essential to the smooth functioning of trade. Henrich and his colleagues concluded that much of the morality that humans possess is a consequence of the culture in which they are raised, not their innate capacities.

At the same time, though, people everywhere have some sense of right and wrong. You won’t find a society where people don’t have some notion of fairness, don’t put some value on loyalty and kindness, don’t distinguish between acts of cruelty and innocent mistakes, don’t categorize people as nasty or nice.
I guess out of the mouth of babes has more meaning than we thought. As does suffer the little children.

And it gives bad behavior among adults a worse name.

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