Just been reading the homepage of Joshua Greene, psychology prof. at Harvard. Interesting; and bears on some of the ethical arguments we kick around here–as well as, come to think of it, that column of JPod’s I linked to earlier. Sample:
My interest in understanding how the moral mind/brain works is in part driven by good-old-fashioned curiosity, but I also harbor a moral, and ultimately political, agenda. As everyone knows, we humans are beset by a number of serious social problems: war, terrorism, the destruction of the environment, etc. Most people think that the cure for these ills is a heaping helping of common sense morality: ‘If only people everywhere would do what they know, deep down, is right, we’d all get along.’
I believe that the opposite is true, that the aforementioned problems are a product of well-intentioned people abiding by their respective common senses, and that the only long-run solution to these problems is for people to develop a healthy distrust of moral common sense. This is largely because our social instincts were not designed for the modern world. Nor, for that matter, were they designed to promote peace and happiness in the world for which they were designed, the world of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
My goal as a scientist, then, is to reveal our moral thinking for what it is: a complex hodgepodge of emotional responses and rational (re)constructions, shaped by biological and cultural forces, that do some things well and other things extremely poorly. My hope is that by understanding how we think, we can teach ourselves to think better, i.e. in ways that better serve the needs of humanity as a whole.