Ethical Impulses & The Moral Instinct

Evolution has endowed us with ethical impulses. Do we know what to do with them?

In Steven Pinker’s New York Times article, The Moral Instinct, this question is raised and discussed as he takes us on a guided tour of ‘moral psychology‘ – a recently invigorated field.

The starting point for appreciating that there is a distinctive part of our psychology for morality is seeing how moral judgments differ from other kinds of opinions we have on how people ought to behave. Moralization is a psychological state that can be turned on and off like a switch, and when it is on, a distinctive mind-set commandeers our thinking. This is the mind-set that makes us deem actions immoral (“killing is wrong”), rather than merely disagreeable (“I hate brussels sprouts”), unfashionable (“bell-bottoms are out”) or imprudent (“don’t scratch mosquito bites”).

via Mind Hacks (Pinker is the author of The Blank Slate and The Language Instinct, both books on my 2008 reading list.)