Synopses & Reviews
A leading cognitive scientist argues that a deep sense of good and evil is bred in the bone.
From Sigmund Freud to Jean Piaget, psychologists have long believed that we begin life as amoral animals. After all, isn't it the role of society—and especially parents—to transform babies from little psychopaths into civilized beings who can experience empathy and shame, and override selfish impulses? In Just Babies, Paul Bloom argues that humans are in fact hardwired with a sense of morality. Drawing upon years of original research at Yale, he shows that babies and toddlers can judge the goodness and badness of others' actions; that they act to soothe those in distress; and that they feel guilt, shame, pride, and righteous anger.
Yet this innate morality is tragically limited. Our natural morality extends toward those in our own group, but this is offset by ingrained dislike, even hatred, of those in different groups. Put simply, we are natural-born bigots. Vivid and intellectually probing, Just Babies argues that it's only through our uniquely human capacity for reason that we can transcend the primitive sense of morality we are born with. This erudite yet accessible book will captivate readers of Steven Pinker, Philip Zimbardo, and Robert Wright.
"With wit and passion, Yale psychology professor Bloom (How Pleasure Works) explores the nature of morality, drawing on current research in psychology, evolutionary biology, and philosophy while discussing which factors appear to be innate and which are culturally determined. Bloom's discussion of choices made by babies three-month-olds through two-year-olds and researchers' ability to assess those choices is fascinating and relies heavily on original research performed by him and his colleagues. He documents both good and bad news: 'Babies are moral animals' who appear to have the ability to judge others' actions and to prefer both fairness and kindness; but they also are distressed by strangers and 'prone toward parochialism and bigotry.' His analysis spans the moral spectrum from empathy to disgust and demonstrates how labile and open to manipulation some of our emotions and opinions are. When asked about their political leanings, for example, college students who were approached near a hand sanitizer in a public hallway claimed to be more conservative than students questioned elsewhere in the hallway. Because the vast majority of the research conducted has been on individuals in Western societies, drawing robust conclusions is difficult. Nonetheless, Bloom convincingly establishes that the nature of morality is open to scientific investigation. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman Inc." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology at Yale University. His previous books include the highly acclaimed How Pleasure Works, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, American Scholar, Slate, the Atlantic Monthly, and The Best American Science Writing. His 2011 TED Global talk on the origins of pleasure has been viewed more than one million times. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
Table of Contents
1 The Moral Life of Babies 7
2 Empathy and Compassion 33
3 Fairness, Status, and
4 Others 101
5 Bodies 131
6 Family Matters 159
7 How to Be Good 187