Moral Grammar

Greg Ross at American Scientist:

Fullimage_200681133125_306Oscar Wilde said, “Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.” But how do we learn where to draw these lines? It’s commonly understood that moral rules are instilled in church, school and home, but Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser believes that they have a deeper source—an unconscious, built-in “moral grammar” that drives our judgments of right and wrong.

Widely known for his studies of animal cognition (see “What Do Animals Think About Numbers?” in the March-April 2000 American Scientist), Hauser has long been intrigued by the nature of human moral judgment (interested readers can take his Web-based Moral Sense Test). He says the human sense of right and wrong, which evolved over millions of years, precedes our conscious judgments and emotions, providing a hidden engine of moral intuition that’s shared by people around the world. “Our moral instincts are immune to the explicitly articulated commandments handed down by religions and governments,” he writes. “Sometimes our moral intuitions will converge with those that culture spells out, and sometimes they will diverge.” In Moral Minds (Ecco, available August 22) Hauser draws ideas from the social and natural sciences, philosophy and the law to support his own findings for an unconscious moral instinct.

More here.