Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil

Paul Bloom. Crown, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-307-88684-2
With wit and passion, Yale psychology professor Bloom (How Pleasure Works) explores the nature of morality, drawing on current research in psychology, evolutionary biology, and philosophy while discussing which factors appear to be innate and which are culturally determined. Bloom’s discussion of choices made by babies—three-month-olds through two-year-olds—and researchers’ ability to assess those choices is fascinating and relies heavily on original research performed by him and his colleagues. He documents both good and bad news: “Babies are moral animals” who appear to have the ability to judge others’ actions and to prefer both fairness and kindness; but they also are distressed by strangers and “prone toward parochialism and bigotry.” His analysis spans the moral spectrum from empathy to disgust and demonstrates how labile and open to manipulation some of our emotions and opinions are. When asked about their political leanings, for example, college students who were approached near a hand sanitizer in a public hallway claimed to be more conservative than students questioned elsewhere in the hallway. Because the vast majority of the research conducted has been on individuals in Western societies, drawing robust conclusions is difficult. Nonetheless, Bloom convincingly establishes that the nature of morality is open to scientific investigation. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman Inc. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/12/2013
Release date: 11/12/2013
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