Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:
The best kind of book, to my mind, is the kind of book you can have an argument with. Not a book so wrong that I want to throw it across the room, but one that I disagree with and yet find challenging enough to force me to re-examine my own views, and often to put down my disagreements in writing to help me better to clarify them. So, here are five books for me to argue with over the next few months. And a sixth that I hope everyone else will be arguing about.
Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene
The contradictions of our moral lives, psychologist and philosopher Joshua Greene suggests, lies in our evolutionary history. Our brains were designed for tribal life. But we live in a globalized world that creates conflicts of interest and clashes of values that we find difficult to negotiate. Not only are we caught between the landscape of our evolved minds and the reality of the modern world, we are also caught between two mechanisms for moral thinking. Like a digital camera, human morality can work both in ‘auto mode’ or in ‘manual mode’. In automatic, point-and-shoot mode, the camera can take pictures quickly and easily, but often goes awry in difficult conditions. In manual mode, the camera can be fine-tuned to take perfect photos in even the trickiest conditions. But such fine-tuning is fiddly and takes time. Auto mode, in other words, is fast but inflexible, manual mode highly flexible, but slow and tricky to set up. The same is true, Greene suggests, of moral thinking. Normally we rely on point-and-shoot moral answers, responding quickly, instinctively, almost unthinkingly to moral problems. Our fast, instinctive point-and-shoot moral snapshot answers have developed against the background of our evolutionary history. We can, however, also step back from our intuitions, and reason our way to a moral answer.