Brooks on Morality

David Brooks is one of my  favorite columnists.   He wrote a column today entitled The End of Philosophy where he discusses where humans get morality.

He points out that philosophers back to Socrates assumed morality came from good reasoning.  However, more and more it doesn’t seem like reason is what gives people their morals; emotions do.  As Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia puts it, “The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and … moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.”

Many people are convinced they have some code of ethics that through reason spells out their morality.(Like religious or philosophical beliefs.) Though this may be true to a degree, most people make moral decisions based on the immediate emotions they feel, not logic flowing from some moral axioms they subscribe to.

Of course evolution is mostly responsible for all this.  Interestingly, as Brook’s points out, the more we learn of evolution the more we see that it has led humans to be “cooperative, empathetic and altruistic,” not just competitive.

I agree.  No matter what philosophy or religion or lack of both, most humans make very similar moral decisions in similar circumstances.  Evolution has bred humans to be very moral creatures by compelling us to follow the aesthetic paths our emotions are suggesting we go.

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One Comment on “Brooks on Morality”

  1. Dan Says:

    What then do we get emotional about? Is it “nature or nurture”? I rather think it’s a little of both, just as most social skills are – being partly learned but with certain predispositions that we’re born with.

    The fact that chimps and other primates display observable “morals” in group play, that can be behaviorally modified, reinforces this conclusion.

    Or at least that’s what I thought.

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