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Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil

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From John Locke to Sigmund Freud, philosophers and psychologists have long believed that we begin life as blank moral slates. Many of us take for granted that babies are born selfish and that it is the role of society—and especially parents—to transform them from little sociopaths into civilized beings. In Just Babies, Paul Bloom argues that humans are in fact hardwired wi From John Locke to Sigmund Freud, philosophers and psychologists have long believed that we begin life as blank moral slates. Many of us take for granted that babies are born selfish and that it is the role of society—and especially parents—to transform them from little sociopaths into civilized beings. In Just Babies, Paul Bloom argues that humans are in fact hardwired with a sense of morality. Drawing on groundbreaking research at Yale, Bloom demonstrates that, even before they can speak or walk, babies judge the goodness and badness of others’ actions; feel empathy and compassion; act to soothe those in distress; and have a rudimentary sense of justice. Still, this innate morality is limited, sometimes tragically. We are naturally hostile to strangers, prone to parochialism and bigotry. Bringing together insights from psychology, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, and philosophy, Bloom explores how we have come to surpass these limitations. Along the way, he examines the morality of chimpanzees, violent psychopaths, religious extremists, and Ivy League professors, and explores our often puzzling moral feelings about sex, politics, religion, and race.


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From John Locke to Sigmund Freud, philosophers and psychologists have long believed that we begin life as blank moral slates. Many of us take for granted that babies are born selfish and that it is the role of society—and especially parents—to transform them from little sociopaths into civilized beings. In Just Babies, Paul Bloom argues that humans are in fact hardwired wi From John Locke to Sigmund Freud, philosophers and psychologists have long believed that we begin life as blank moral slates. Many of us take for granted that babies are born selfish and that it is the role of society—and especially parents—to transform them from little sociopaths into civilized beings. In Just Babies, Paul Bloom argues that humans are in fact hardwired with a sense of morality. Drawing on groundbreaking research at Yale, Bloom demonstrates that, even before they can speak or walk, babies judge the goodness and badness of others’ actions; feel empathy and compassion; act to soothe those in distress; and have a rudimentary sense of justice. Still, this innate morality is limited, sometimes tragically. We are naturally hostile to strangers, prone to parochialism and bigotry. Bringing together insights from psychology, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, and philosophy, Bloom explores how we have come to surpass these limitations. Along the way, he examines the morality of chimpanzees, violent psychopaths, religious extremists, and Ivy League professors, and explores our often puzzling moral feelings about sex, politics, religion, and race.

30 review for Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra X on hiatus (or trying to be)

    "Our moral lives have two parts. It starts with what we are born with, and this is surprisingly rich: babies are moral animals, equipped by evolution with empathy and compassion, the capacity to judge the actions of others, and even some rudimentary understanding of justice and fairness. But we are more than just babies. A critical part of our morality—so much of what makes us human—emerges over the course of human history and individual development. It is the product of our compassion, our imag "Our moral lives have two parts. It starts with what we are born with, and this is surprisingly rich: babies are moral animals, equipped by evolution with empathy and compassion, the capacity to judge the actions of others, and even some rudimentary understanding of justice and fairness. But we are more than just babies. A critical part of our morality—so much of what makes us human—emerges over the course of human history and individual development. It is the product of our compassion, our imagination, and our magnificent capacity for reason." The book is an elucidation of every detail of the above paragraph. It doesn't limit itself to babies, but is as much as a sweeping philosophical overview as it is science-based factual evidence of how we behave (even when no-one is watching). How babies as young as three days are the subjects of experiments is quite fascinating. Basically it's all in the sucking, the gazing and a little later, the reaching and grabbing. It is a unique book and although easy to read, is also personally challenging as to what one believes and does oneself. I feel a little guilty that whenever I am in the US, or UK, I don't give to the beggars that line the streets and sleep in the parks. I also find it immoral that some of the richest nations on earth should have let such people, almost all mentally-damaged to fall through the cracks. I think I will be more generous when i go back to the US in a few days and not cross the road and invent excuses why not to help. The book has certainly made me think. (view spoiler)[There aren't any beggars with nowhere to sleep on the island. The three there are, Susie who is a crack addict is used as an example to kids not to take drugs, they can see the awful state you end up in. Then there is Yello who comes from a wealthy family and is looked after but likes begging. I remember her when she was a taxi driver, a clever woman, who had a breakdown. She has a home to go to. The third beggar is a big fat chap who is forever asking for money for food but always refuses offers to work! He's quite clean so I suppose he has a home somewhere. (hide spoiler)] The book could be entitled simply Morals. But it wouldn't have hooked me! So far, fantastic read, definitely a 5 star.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    I took a coursera.org MOOC taught by Paul Bloom in January 2014. MOOC stands for massive open online course, free lecture and online discussion classes that are offered on the internet. The course was Moralities of Everyday Life. Bloom is a psychology professor at Yale University in New Haven, CT. This book was suggested but not required for the course. I enjoyed taking the course beginning in January 2014 but am just getting around to reading the book. It is pretty repetitious of the course but I took a coursera.org MOOC taught by Paul Bloom in January 2014. MOOC stands for massive open online course, free lecture and online discussion classes that are offered on the internet. The course was Moralities of Everyday Life. Bloom is a psychology professor at Yale University in New Haven, CT. This book was suggested but not required for the course. I enjoyed taking the course beginning in January 2014 but am just getting around to reading the book. It is pretty repetitious of the course but a fun read nevertheless. This book is enjoyable to read, not just because it explains things well, but also because it has some humanity and humor. The psychologist Abigail Marsh and her colleagues find that psychopaths are markedly insensitive to the expression of fear. Normal people recognize fear and treat it as a distress cue, but psychopaths have problems seeing it, let alone responding to it appropriately. Marsh recounts an anecdote about a psychopath who was being tested with a series of pictures and who failed over and over again to recognize fearful expressions, until finally she figured it out: “That’s the look people get right before I stab them.” This book is full of studies and knowledge and fun paragraphs. I am sure it could not qualify as a text book! But it does have forty pages of Notes at the end just to nail down the scholarship. While the origin of group differences takes us outside the sciences of the mind, the question of how we learn about these differences is bread-and-butter psychology, and the answer is simple: humans (and other creatures) are natural statisticians. The only way to cope with the present is by making generalizations based on the past. We learn from experience that chairs can be sat upon, that dogs bark, and that apples can be eaten. Of course, there are exceptions – fragile chairs, mute dogs, and poisonous apples – and it’s worth it to be on guard for such outliers. But life would be impossible if we weren’t constantly going with the odds; otherwise, we wouldn’t know what to do with a new chair, dog, or apple. But don’t get me wrong. This book isn’t just a lot of fun. It takes on totally serious subjects. But it tries to do so in a human way. This research illustrates how we can be at war with ourselves. Part of a person might believe that race should play no role in hiring decisions (or even that racial minorities should get an advantage), while another part guides a person against choosing a black person. This tension can reflect a moral struggle; one’s explicit view about what’s right clashes with one’s gut feeling. Just Babies will challenge you. If you have ever read or heard about moral philosophy, you have been presented with the “trolley” and the “bridge” scenarios repeatedly where you will be asked to sacrifice one life to save several. To tell you the truth, I am more than a little tired of being asked if I would save a drowning child even if I ruined an expensive pair of shoes! And what about those thousands of children dying every day in other parts of the world? But we shouldn’t be too smug about our moral powers. I read every day about the suffering of strangers in faraway lands, and I know I can improve their lives, but I rarely make the effort. When I am in a big city, I often find myself in the position of the Good Samaritan in the tale from the Gospels, passing someone slumped on the side of a road, probably sick, hungry, plainly in need of assistance. If the person were my kin – I would rush over to help; if he or she were in my in-group – my neighbor, a colleague from my university, someone I play poker with – I would also help. But it’s always a stranger, so I usually turn away and keep walking. Most likely, you do the same. I don’t think that you can have spoilers in science. In science you often have a theory, something that you test against. Everything has to point in the direction of the theory or else you have to change the theory. So Paul Bloom’s conclusion is rightly outlined on the inside flap of the dust cover. Bloom does not assert that when we are born a baby, we are innately just. While we do have many good qualities at birth, and Bloom explores developmental studies that show those characteristics, he ultimately shows “how our imagination, our compassion, and especially our intelligence give rise to moral insight and moral progress and make us more than just babies.” For those of us who need summation and clear guidance, Just Babies does end with a clear conclusion: It turns out instead that the right theory of our moral lives has two parts. It starts with what we are born with, and this is surprisingly rich: babies are moral animals, equipped by evolution with empathy and compassion, the capacity to judge the actions of others, and even some rudimentary understanding of justice and fairness. But we are more than just babies. A critical part of our morality – so much of what makes us human – emerges over the course of human history and individual development. It is the product of our compassion, our imagination, and our magnificent capacity for reason. This is an uplifting book. It takes you places you are glad to be and helps you think things that make you feel good about people. It is not only grounded in scientific proofs but also substantiated gut reactions! If Coursera offers Moralities of Everyday Life again, I encourage you to take it. If not, reading this book is a good substitute. As of June 14, 2014, the course outline is still posted online at https://class.coursera.org/moralities... .

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susan (aka Just My Op)

    I started reading this book just after 12-year old and 14-year old children were accused of killing teachers in two separate incidents. I so much want to understand such behavior, but I still don't have all the answers I want. Although much of this book is about babies and their innate morality, it also relates to those of us who are well beyond that stage. It is written at a level easily readable by a lay person, such as I am, who is interested but not highly educated on the subject. There were e I started reading this book just after 12-year old and 14-year old children were accused of killing teachers in two separate incidents. I so much want to understand such behavior, but I still don't have all the answers I want. Although much of this book is about babies and their innate morality, it also relates to those of us who are well beyond that stage. It is written at a level easily readable by a lay person, such as I am, who is interested but not highly educated on the subject. There were experiments done on babies, but don't worry – these are not the horrid, damaging types done in generations gone by (unfortunately, not that many generations). There were some mentions of animal experiments but not enough to be upsetting to me, even though I hate reading about animal experiments, often not done humanely or with any sense of compassion. I learned some things that explain why I react to some situations and why other people may react the same or differently, and found the information on punishment especially interesting. There are things I don't like about the book. In one section, the author has discussed how a horrible act of animal cruelty once was considered hilarious entertainment. The author goes on to say, “We don't do this anymore; should the next step be to stop hunting animals, eating them, and using them for medical research? Some would say yes to all of this too, but then what about the proper treatment and protection of skin cells? Personal computers? Viruses?” Give me a freakin' break. I am one of those who wants much, much more protection for animals than they now have, and even someone like I am can understand the difference between vivisection on a dog and my personal computer. This argument was taken to such a ridiculous extreme that the author lost some credibility. Based on some of the studies, I don't necessarily agree with all the conclusions drawn by the author, but I still learned a great deal and enjoyed the book. I was given an advance reader's copy of the book for review, and the quote may have changed in the published edition.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Excellent. Concise research and fabulous defining! I read this in one night instead of watching Monday Night Football and sleeping- that's how good it was. In the middle and late '90's while getting an MS I did attending, tracking, children's aversion, crowd interest trials of like manner to his baby exercises - all kinds of Cognitive Psychology research. So this was just up my alley and easy read. And yet I am a hard audience for excluding the variables and a most difficult marker on these kind Excellent. Concise research and fabulous defining! I read this in one night instead of watching Monday Night Football and sleeping- that's how good it was. In the middle and late '90's while getting an MS I did attending, tracking, children's aversion, crowd interest trials of like manner to his baby exercises - all kinds of Cognitive Psychology research. So this was just up my alley and easy read. And yet I am a hard audience for excluding the variables and a most difficult marker on these kinds of books. Both. 5 stars- with no exceptions. His chapters on the differences between empathy and compassion, what cores "disgust" in homo sapiens were superlative. Sections upon free rider sensibilities. Very good. And moral arrangements for punishment/ appropriate responses for using punishments- even BETTER. This is the kind of research in our brain's cognition that is never needed more than right now. To determine what makes it "us" and the "other"- is just the beginning of the foundation to understand how to act for the numbers and cultures we have on earth today. Human nature evaluations and its moral cognition are the crux. Theory and philosophy of choices in economics or politico cannot ignore that homo sapiens foundation. And at present, they are.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    ***NO SPOILERS*** Is a sense of right and wrong programmed into the human psyche at birth, or is the psyche blank and totally pliable, able to be fashioned just as easily into that of a conscionable being as into that of a psychopath? That is the question at the heart of Just Babies. Author Paul Bloom refers to the sense of right and wrong as “morality,” while at the same time acknowledging that that word can be hard to define:“Even moral philosophers don’t agree about what morality really is, an ***NO SPOILERS*** Is a sense of right and wrong programmed into the human psyche at birth, or is the psyche blank and totally pliable, able to be fashioned just as easily into that of a conscionable being as into that of a psychopath? That is the question at the heart of Just Babies. Author Paul Bloom refers to the sense of right and wrong as “morality,” while at the same time acknowledging that that word can be hard to define:“Even moral philosophers don’t agree about what morality really is, and many non philosophers don’t like to use the word at all. When I tell people what this book is about, more than one has responded with ‘I don’t believe in morality.’ Someone once told me--and I’m not sure that she was joking--that morality is nothing more than rules about whom you can and can’t have sex with.” In a nutshell, when it comes to the conscience, Just Babies grapples with that age-old question of “Is it nurture or nature?” Bloom’s book proves just how great of a role nature plays. The book is divided into seven chapters, with the first explaining at length the technical aspects of testing babies, along with the results of these various experiments. This first chapter is fascinating not only because of the results but because of the experiments themselves; the researchers’ ingenuity in devising ways to test babies is impressive. The chapters following explore whether, and to what degree, people are born with a sense of empathy, fairness, disgust (quite possibly the most intriguing chapter), a desire to punish and seek revenge, and exactly why people are naturally kinder to kin than to strangers. As with the first chapter, the answers to these questions and the examples proving them (via solid, detailed experiments) are riveting. Just one of a great many that stand out: Children are sensitive to inequity, then, but it seems to upset them only when they themselves are the ones getting less[...]The psychologists Peter Blake and Katherine McAuliffe paired up four- and eight-year-olds who had never met, placing them in front of a special apparatus that was set up to distribute two trays of candy. One of the children had access to a lever that gave her the choice either to tilt both trays toward the children (so that each got whatever amount of candy was on the nearest tray) or to dump both trays (so that nobody got any candy.) When there was an equal amount of candy in each tray, the children almost never dumped. They also almost never dumped when the distribution favored themselves—say, four candies on their tray, and one candy on the other child’s tray—though some of the eight-year-olds did reject this choice. But when this distribution was reversed to favor the other child, children at every age group frequently chose to dump both trays. They would rather get nothing than have another child, a stranger, get more than them.Just Babies is well-organized and written in clear, straightforward language ideal for the everyday reader; Bloom didn’t use any specialized science or psychology jargon, so a background in these fields isn’t necessary to understand the book. The writing, however, could be better. Certain word choices are jarring and detract from Just Babies’s intelligent tone. The use of “pissed” is one such example: “The researchers find that the dog offered a lesser treat will sometimes act, well, pissed, and refuse it.” A simple word swap makes that sentence sound a tiny bit more scholarly: “The researchers find that the dog offered a lesser treat will sometimes get angry and refuse it.” Along the same lines, Bloom wrote this: “And so, while there might remain some stalwart contributors, the situation gradually goes to hell.” when the following seems like a better choice: “And so, while there might remain some stalwart contributors, the situation gradually devolves.” Regardless, the book’s strengths--its biggest by far being that it effectively backs up each and every one of its many claims with convincing experimental evidence--outweigh any weaknesses; Bloom took great care to convince, leaving little room for doubt or dismissal. Final verdict: A good nonfiction choice for anyone the least bit interested in psychology. NOTE: I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy from LibraryThing in November 2013.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    So here is my problem with this book - it never actually discusses the origins of "good" or "evil". In fact, it really feels like a hodgepodge of different theories on morality in general. While Bloom discusses morality in babies, he has a bad habit of jumping to conclusions in regards to the actual thought processes of the babies themselves based on the results of experiments. As a psychologist, and scientist, I feel that he should not be making any arbitrary conclusions, which he does several So here is my problem with this book - it never actually discusses the origins of "good" or "evil". In fact, it really feels like a hodgepodge of different theories on morality in general. While Bloom discusses morality in babies, he has a bad habit of jumping to conclusions in regards to the actual thought processes of the babies themselves based on the results of experiments. As a psychologist, and scientist, I feel that he should not be making any arbitrary conclusions, which he does several times throughout the book - not just regarding babies. I have read several books on the basis for "evil", lack of empathy, sociopathy, and the like. This book really does not come close in comparison. There are better books that provide a more linear thought process and are more clear in the connection between topics and chapters. I will say that I was pleased with how Bloom addressed the belief that without religion people would fail to have any morals. His opinion and supporting research was well done and I applaud him for not only including it in his book, as his opinion is not a popular one, but taking the time to provide a valid, logical argument surrounding it. In all, I think that this book is better thought of as a collection of essays regarding different aspects of what make us moral creatures, instead of a book about the origins of good and evil.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Well, first things first. This is not just about babies. While Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has done some of the most interesting work on the moral intuitions and behaviors of infants and toddlers, there isn't enough of that work to sustain a whole book. Instead, he uses those experiments to launch a wide-ranging look at how we develop a moral sense. For those who study social psychology, much of this is well-trod ground, but Bloom is a good writer -- clear, succinct, with many good study example Well, first things first. This is not just about babies. While Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has done some of the most interesting work on the moral intuitions and behaviors of infants and toddlers, there isn't enough of that work to sustain a whole book. Instead, he uses those experiments to launch a wide-ranging look at how we develop a moral sense. For those who study social psychology, much of this is well-trod ground, but Bloom is a good writer -- clear, succinct, with many good study examples. He covers the emerging field of how our emotions and unconscious impulses can guide much of our moral behavior. For instance, if you wash your hands before doing a moral judgment experiment, you're more likely to judge someone harshly (because unconsciously you feel more pure). If there is a poster of pair of eyes looking out at you while you are in a room, you are more likely to behave in a morally acceptable way, and so forth. He also has one entire chapter on the trolley studies, which have become one of psychology's landmark memes. This is the thought experiment where you are asked, if a trolley was hurtling down the tracks toward five people, but you could throw a switch to send it down a track where one person would be killed, would you do it? (Most would). Now, on the other hand, if you were standing on a bridge with a large person, would you push him onto the tracks (with the same numerical outcome?). Most people wouldn't. But it was actually the end of this book that fascinated me most, because Bloom believes our moral reasoning -- our ability to weigh the pros and cons of our moral choices -- has a significant impact, and this is at odds with some other thinkers, who believe our moral behavior is still guided mostly by unconscious and evolutionarily ancient urges, and that our "rational" morality is a post-facto invention to explain decisions we've already made. He also explores whether religion makes people more moral, or whether it is imply an "accelerant" that can either boost morally compassionate behavior in those so inclined, or inflame punishment in those oriented that way. This is a provocative book that is well worth the read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    Before I go into a TL;DR-style review I'll give you my summary thoughts: interesting book if you're someone who is curious about developmental and/or moral psychology and experimental methods. I happen to be one of those people, but if reading the names of the grad students involved in qualitative methods studies is a big turn off for you, then you might want to skip this one. I read this in tandem with Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience, which enhanced my enjoyment of both books (t Before I go into a TL;DR-style review I'll give you my summary thoughts: interesting book if you're someone who is curious about developmental and/or moral psychology and experimental methods. I happen to be one of those people, but if reading the names of the grad students involved in qualitative methods studies is a big turn off for you, then you might want to skip this one. I read this in tandem with Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience, which enhanced my enjoyment of both books (this one focusing on theory of moral development/schools of thought in moral philosophy etc., the other a combination of "case studies" into how these mechanisms of morality can evolve into some of the greatest atrocities known to human-kind). Paul Bloom begins by examining some of the fundamental pieces that may or may not comprise "morality": empathy, compassion, disgust, a desire for "fairness" etc. What I found to be of particular interest were the mechanisms of justification for "bad behavior" that show up in early childhood development. Such reflexive displays of guilt were replaced with explicit acts of moral self-justification as the children got older: the two-year-olds in the study attempted to “motivate the disobedience, for example, by claiming the toy as their own. Bloom also examines mechanisms through which certain "natural" impulses toward acting morally are overriden: Disgust is a powerful force for evil. If you want to exterminate or marginalize a group, this is the emotion to elicit (p.131). He also examines the means through which religion can be used to include/exclude groups from our "moral circles": When the moral circle contracts, perhaps because of war or some other external threat, people “tend to find a scriptural basis for intolerance or belligerence.” When it expands, “they’re more likely to find the tolerant and understanding side of their scriptures.” Believing that scripture itself causes these changes is like concluding that newspaper headlines cause plane crashes (p.205). If you are not familiar with "trolley problems" then this book gives you a nice overview of their various versions and why human impulses can be seemingly illogical. I fear this is more a "what I found interesting" list than it is a review, but, as I said, if these are the types of things that intrigue you (particularly if you don't want to plod through the entirety of several studies summarized in this book), then definitely check it out.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Leo Walsh

    Just Babies by Paul Bloom begins with a captivating, science-based book offering an overview of what developmental psych tells us about infant and toddler's inborn morality. After tracing how morals develop as we age, Bloom moves into "trolley stories," which are little thought experiments cognitive scientists use to test morality of more mature subjects. Here's an example of a pair of trolley stories. 1) You are standing on a bridge over a railroad track, a train is approaching, and you see a vi Just Babies by Paul Bloom begins with a captivating, science-based book offering an overview of what developmental psych tells us about infant and toddler's inborn morality. After tracing how morals develop as we age, Bloom moves into "trolley stories," which are little thought experiments cognitive scientists use to test morality of more mature subjects. Here's an example of a pair of trolley stories. 1) You are standing on a bridge over a railroad track, a train is approaching, and you see a villain has tied ten people to a track. You can save them by switching the train to another track, but if you throw the switch, you kill another person the villain had tied to that track. Would you pull the switch? When asked this way, experimental subjects agree that they should throw the switch. And it makes sense. It makes it seem as it humans are positivistic, utilitarian in their moral judgements. Killing 1 to save 10 makes rational sense, since “10>1.” But things get more complicated. When posing the rational 10:1 in another way, researcher end up with the opposite response, saving the 1 person and sacrificing the 10. 2) You are standing on a bridge over a railroad track, a train is approaching, and you see a villain has tied ten people to a track. You can save them by pushing a fat man standing next to you onto the track below to slow the train, killing him. You are too light to accomplish this. Would you push the man to his death? Odd, since both situations offer identical “you save 10 people by killing 1” payoffs. The difference is, one is from afar (you throw a switch), while the other up-close and personal. Why the difference? And which reflects our innate morality? Both, it seems. Since as social animals, emotionally healthy humans cringe at murder. And being near a person makes that murder explicit, while killing them from afar buffers us from reality. Intriguing. And one of the many thought-provoking issues the psychological studies covered in Just Babies raises. But unlike many scientists, Bloom refuses to stop at the “that’s just the way we are” arguments. Instead, he highlights the need for real, deep-seated, thought-through moral principles. Which requires rational engagement with moral issues that takes our biases into account. For example, babies, toddlers and young children naturally distrust outsiders, embracing their near kin. Problem is, racist leaders leverage this tendency by creating an us/ them mentality, as Hitler did with the Jews. But we don't have to remain bound to instinct. By using our rationality, humans can assess the data biology and statistics gives us, which is that an average human is average, regardless of race, color or creed. Further, the science tells us that racial supremacy is a lark. By applying ration to our moral choices, we further learn that the science tells us enrolling a child in a mixed-race school makes all children, regardless of race, more tolerant. Further, multicultural diversity produces better test scores for students of every race. So if your rationally-determined goal is creating a just society, where all people, regardless of race, color or creed, have the best chance of success, desegregating schools seems a no-brainer. Sure, it goes beyond reporting science. But it advocates for thoughtful consciousness that transcends and allows us to use science to achieve are greater, abstract, philisophical ends. This refreshing attitude, acknowledging the limits of science, is all to rare in science writing. All things considered,I’d recommended Just Babies for people interested justice and morality. Or people interested in contemporary cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. Brilliant, thought-provoking and easy to read. 4 stars.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Orsolya

    Morality. Justice. Empathy. Compassion. Good vs. Evil. These terms represent norms that grease the wheels of society. The question amongst evolutionary psychologists is whether these concepts are purely created by nurture or are they foundations one is born with (and then is insulated through nurture). Paul Bloom, an acclaimed psychologist, presents his latter views in, “Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil”. “Just Babies” combines developmental and cognitive sciences, psychology, philosoph Morality. Justice. Empathy. Compassion. Good vs. Evil. These terms represent norms that grease the wheels of society. The question amongst evolutionary psychologists is whether these concepts are purely created by nurture or are they foundations one is born with (and then is insulated through nurture). Paul Bloom, an acclaimed psychologist, presents his latter views in, “Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil”. “Just Babies” combines developmental and cognitive sciences, psychology, philosophy, and even some neuroscience to explore whether humans are born with a sense of right from wrong. Bloom introduces his thesis clearly with a simple prose that is neither too scientific in jargon nor too dummied down for the mass audiences. Yet, Bloom conveys an immediate sense of “holding back” (which continues throughout the text) with too much of an abstract and summarized look at the topic. To elaborate on this, Bloom presents case studies, experimental results, and theories to help prove that babies display morality at an age when nurture couldn’t have logically played a part. The issue is that Bloom doesn’t carry out the discussions or explain the complete science behind the trials making his arguments weak and unfulfilling. Furthermore, many of his quoted experiments are ones which other psychology books also reference but apply them to meet their own needs. This seems to be a trend amongst current authors in the field (how can one experiment mold to prove so many various angles?!). At least, Bloom presents some of his own primary findings versus simply summarizing the work of others. Bloom mentions in the introduction to “Just Babies” that he will be overly referencing Adam Smith (and even teases himself for it). He certainly doesn’t exaggerate, with Adam Smith being quoted on almost every page; limiting the view of “Just Babies”. The biggest downfall of “Just Babies” is Bloom’s apparent failure to prove his thesis. Although Bloom shows proof of morality; most of the examples cited are for humans (adults) in general versus that of babies. The discussion of babies is very little and in fact, merely focusing on this would cut the already-short book’s length in half. Basically, “Just Babies” does not live up to its title or claims. Despite this major fallow, there are some very enlightening (and borderline philosophical) view points and discussions in “Just Babies” – especially Bloom’s text on racial preferences and biases. Again, these are murky with their relation to the topic but are successfully compelling. In the final chapter of “Just Babies”, Bloom rationalizes some views concerning ‘How to be Good’. Unfortunately, Bloom’s discussion is much too cluttered with philosophy with no clear direction leaving the chapter difficult to read and not ending “Just Babies” on a strong note. Basically, it is not memorable at all. Bloom includes a notes section which is useful for those seeking sources for further reading. “Just Babies” makes some interesting points on a unique topic but it is not as concise, scientific, or padded as preferred. Bloom’s language is accessible making “Just Babies” a great introduction for the average reader. However, one simply does not come away with too much gained or a proven hypothesis/thesis. “Just Babies” is recommended for a mild and quick psychology read but if seeking something more intense; then “Just Babies” can be skipped.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    How do we look at moral reasoning? Across societies? Within a single society? Liberals versus conservatives? Cold blooded psychopaths? Environment: encourage kindness or cruelty. Neuroscientist can look at parts of the brain involved in moral reasoning. I liked the beginning of this book. The author talked about contemporary moral differences.... Such as homosexuality. masturbation, religion, marriages, long hair etc. he talked about natural reactions people have towards lying. He talked about u How do we look at moral reasoning? Across societies? Within a single society? Liberals versus conservatives? Cold blooded psychopaths? Environment: encourage kindness or cruelty. Neuroscientist can look at parts of the brain involved in moral reasoning. I liked the beginning of this book. The author talked about contemporary moral differences.... Such as homosexuality. masturbation, religion, marriages, long hair etc. he talked about natural reactions people have towards lying. He talked about up session people have with morality of sex. Talked a lot about empathy and compassion. He mentioned that human beings everywhere punish free riders..... And the book was good. But what I didn't walk away with was any new scientific facts of what a baby is really thinking. The things he did talk about the baby ... Such as they are more comfortable with familiar faces, etc. were common sense to me and I think most people. So I'm not really sure what I learned from this book that was new and groundbreaking. I thought that was going to be the point. However, It's not like we can really do brain scans on newborn babies. So the book was good ... Yet still leaves us with questions.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Radiantflux

    17th book for 2017. There were some interesting research presented here, but it never seemed to come together as a whole. The writing style and structure of the book really read as a rewrite of a series of undergraduate lectures (12?) on the (developmental) psychology of morality. Lots of different studies presented here, not super well integrated, either within or (particularly) across chapters. The problem with this sort of style this is that unless the reader can impose their own narrative thr 17th book for 2017. There were some interesting research presented here, but it never seemed to come together as a whole. The writing style and structure of the book really read as a rewrite of a series of undergraduate lectures (12?) on the (developmental) psychology of morality. Lots of different studies presented here, not super well integrated, either within or (particularly) across chapters. The problem with this sort of style this is that unless the reader can impose their own narrative thread from outside (because they know the area already) it becomes very hard to keep all the different ideas/findings presented within the book in any sort of memorable structure. More irritating is that a large chunk of the book has nothing to do with either babies or the origins of morality; presumably because there wasn't enough material to fill out a book with the former, and it would have been too much work to produce something really worthwhile about the later. Those looking forward to an up-to-date account of the developmental origins of good and evil must sadly look elsewhere.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nazbanou Nozari

    Started off great, then derailed. The first few chapters review very interesting empirical findings about what's innate in children and how it gives rise to morality, but the later pages become more about Paul Bloom thinking outloud, and stating, in my opinion, the obvious. Started off great, then derailed. The first few chapters review very interesting empirical findings about what's innate in children and how it gives rise to morality, but the later pages become more about Paul Bloom thinking outloud, and stating, in my opinion, the obvious.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Angel c

    An interesting topic, though I think the chapters loop on the same verdict too much. Babies inherently have a moral compass, but to what extent? I still do not know after reading the book. It was very entertaining. Good for light reading and a basic understanding of sociology.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amirography

    I like Paul Bloom. He argues interestingly. But his books are a bit too shrinked. He should cover more grounds.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pete Welter

    Blooms starts out this book where you might expect from the title, discussing morality experiments he and other have done with babies. Even before they have any capacity for verbalization, or even much movement, one can discover babies' expectations by monitoring what they look at and for how long. For object or situations they don't expect, they tend to look longer. Using this technique, Bloom shows that certain kinds of morality, such as rewarding helpful behavior and punishing selfish or nasty Blooms starts out this book where you might expect from the title, discussing morality experiments he and other have done with babies. Even before they have any capacity for verbalization, or even much movement, one can discover babies' expectations by monitoring what they look at and for how long. For object or situations they don't expect, they tend to look longer. Using this technique, Bloom shows that certain kinds of morality, such as rewarding helpful behavior and punishing selfish or nasty behavior, are present in babies from a very young age, and that other types of morality start to appear at various stages of childhood development. Through the book he continues to expand on this until it is a general discussion on the relationship between moral philosophy and moral psychology, and the major schools of thought and thinkers. As such, it's a very nice overview of the topic. A major theme in current thinking on morality is the tension between moral intuition and moral reasoning. There are good arguments and experiments that support aspects of each of those being the most important element of our moral behavior, and the truth is that we use a mix depending on the circumstances...but we may not be aware of which we are using when. If you wanted to get related but different views, I'd recommend Jonathan Haidt's "The RIghteous Mind" and Joshua Greene's "Moral Tribes" and to also check out some of Steven Pinker's work like "Angels of our Better Nature" and Sam Harris' "The Moral Landscape." I'm in the midst of Bloom's Coursera class on "The Moralities of Everyday Life" which I would highly recommend if it opens again. I'd recommend this book as a great first step into current thinking on how we form our moral behaviors, and if you get really interested, follow up with some of the other books I've mentioned.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne Mixon

    A terrific book that unfortunately couldn't live up to its incredibly disturbing cover and title but that's okay. The only thing I didn't like were the blanket assumptions about liberals are like this and conservatives are like that. Many liberals support a strong government and many conservatives are racially aware. The best chapters were "Bodies" and "How to be Good." I liked the idea that scientists looked to see if God had rewired our brains to be altruistic and concluded that He didn't. I'm A terrific book that unfortunately couldn't live up to its incredibly disturbing cover and title but that's okay. The only thing I didn't like were the blanket assumptions about liberals are like this and conservatives are like that. Many liberals support a strong government and many conservatives are racially aware. The best chapters were "Bodies" and "How to be Good." I liked the idea that scientists looked to see if God had rewired our brains to be altruistic and concluded that He didn't. I'm not sure how they did that, but what a cool idea. I really like the idea that reason according to Bloom can overrule passion and impulses. His theories and observations match my life and experiences more than David Brooks and other neurological impulse theorists. I DO think about what I believe and why I believe it. I think about it all the time. And I love a good runaway train story and there were a lot of them. The idea of babies participating in a Milgram style experiment was intriguing and hilarious. I would like to see them given the opportunity to torture puppets. I'm sure they would outgrow the trauma. My teenaged son read this book and there is no higher compliment than that. He is very very picky about what he will read. The line that has entered our household conversation is this: Oh, I know that face! That's the face people make just before I stab them!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nasim

    Paul Bloom and his wife Karen Wynn definitely did one of the greatest experiments in the history of moral development with pupets. but the point is, he is not a good writer. first chapter is the best part of the book. other parts of the book seem unrelavent to each other and even to the babies since they are written about adults. also he does not describe others' experiments completely. in general, the book is good as it gives you general idea about this field. Paul Bloom and his wife Karen Wynn definitely did one of the greatest experiments in the history of moral development with pupets. but the point is, he is not a good writer. first chapter is the best part of the book. other parts of the book seem unrelavent to each other and even to the babies since they are written about adults. also he does not describe others' experiments completely. in general, the book is good as it gives you general idea about this field.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    Great read. Bloom wrote this book in a way that is accessible to lay readers without dumbing it down. He backs up his claims with lots of research and well-explained experiments. Thought provoking. Definitely worth reading if you have an interest in morality or psychology (developmental, cognitive or moral).

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mishehu

    Great food for thought. Confirmed my suspicion that babies are pure evil. Wouldn't trust a baby as far as she could throw me...;). Seriously, read this book (especially if you're into moral philosophy and developmental psychology [but even if you're not; it's a terrific read]). Great food for thought. Confirmed my suspicion that babies are pure evil. Wouldn't trust a baby as far as she could throw me...;). Seriously, read this book (especially if you're into moral philosophy and developmental psychology [but even if you're not; it's a terrific read]).

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cecily Kyle

    I have had this one my TBR for a little while now, and though intriguing I kept choosing other things first. However, I wish that wasn't the case because I actually found the information in this book really interesting and I didn't want to stop. Great, fascinating Read! I have had this one my TBR for a little while now, and though intriguing I kept choosing other things first. However, I wish that wasn't the case because I actually found the information in this book really interesting and I didn't want to stop. Great, fascinating Read!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Vlad

    Nice distinction between empathy and compassion. It appears we are not born moral consequentialists.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Ehhh

  24. 4 out of 5

    Max

    An interesting thesis, but the book itself never really seemed to get off the ground.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    BLUF: Pass on this. This book discusses morality, but will not bring you much insight into the origins of good and evil, as the title suggests. When you title a book “Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil”, your readers expect you to primarily talk about babies, goodness, and evil. Pretty straightforward, right? Not in this case. This book spent the majority of its content on goodness, about third of its content on babies, and very little content, if any, on evilness. Essentially, this book i BLUF: Pass on this. This book discusses morality, but will not bring you much insight into the origins of good and evil, as the title suggests. When you title a book “Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil”, your readers expect you to primarily talk about babies, goodness, and evil. Pretty straightforward, right? Not in this case. This book spent the majority of its content on goodness, about third of its content on babies, and very little content, if any, on evilness. Essentially, this book is on morality. But isn’t morality good versus evil? No, not really. Morality regards right and wrong, specifically in relation to one’s cultures. As for babies and morality, this book does focus on a number of studies, which found that small children prefer characters that assist or are positive towards others over characters that cause detriment or are otherwise neutral to the situation. It also found that babies are more likely to share with a familiar face than an unfamiliar one, if you want to freak out a baby, just act frozen, and “no baby is an island”. Of course, these last concepts don’t attribute to the purpose of the book. That’s about it for the babies in this book. No joke. An interesting thing mentioned in this book about children is that children (when making friends or choosing who to talk to) are more likely to be drawn to a person of their own race over the race of another. At the same time, children are more likely to be drawn to a person with the same accent (regardless of race) over a child of the same race but a foreign accent. This was tied into morality through discussion of how people treat/mistreat others, i.e. racism, sexism, etc. The idea being that we prefer what is familiar and the best way to make unfamiliar cultures become familiar is through personal contact and stories. Personally, I don’t see a strong connection between morality and this information, but I do find it interesting. The other main discussion involving children was shown to apply to both children and adults: we become bothered when we are rewarded less than those around us. As with above, I fail to see the point that relates it to the book. Again, it’s not about babies, not about good, and not about evil. Hmm.. Let’s sum up the book with one of its’ parting ideas: “Moral deliberation is ubiquitous, but psychologist typically overlook it. This is, in part, because everybody loves counterintuitive findings. Discovering that individuals have moral intuitions that they struggle to explain is exciting and can get published in a top journal. Discovering that individuals have moral intuitions that they can easily explain, such as the wrongness of drunk driving, is obvious, uninteresting, and unpublishable. It is fascinating to discover that individuals who are asked to assign a punishment to a criminal are influenced by factors that they are unaware of, like the presence of the flag in the room, or that they would consciously disavow, like the color of the criminal’s skin. It is boring to find that individuals proposed punishments are influenced by rational considerations, such as the severity of the crime and the criminal’s previous record. Interesting.” For having this idea (perhaps truth) about human interest, the author spends a lot of his time sharing information that one forms from common sense or is not really relevant to his books’ concept. This causes the book to fall in the “obvious” and “uninteresting” category listed above. --- Warning, this is a rant: The book provided ideas like this: “Scientist X believes in Theory Y. Theory Y is [explanation]. Most people in the field today don’t agree”. If this happened once, I wouldn’t be whining to you right now. It was so frustrating to listen to theories that made sense, but resulted in the author sharing that he doesn’t believe they are relevant for some reason or another.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ap

    Chapter 1: Beginning of the book starts well -- some musings on morality among different cultures, universalities, etc Describes studies where small children, ~ 1 year, demonstrate what seems to be an innate ability to differentiate between good and bad. The gut feeling seems to be at the core of it. Reminds me of that how-to book on catching employees in lies. It all boiled down to gut feelings. I'm wondering -- all our sciences, dissections, studies of humanity, of which neurons fire when, of w Chapter 1: Beginning of the book starts well -- some musings on morality among different cultures, universalities, etc Describes studies where small children, ~ 1 year, demonstrate what seems to be an innate ability to differentiate between good and bad. The gut feeling seems to be at the core of it. Reminds me of that how-to book on catching employees in lies. It all boiled down to gut feelings. I'm wondering -- all our sciences, dissections, studies of humanity, of which neurons fire when, of what biochemical processes cause what reactions -- how and why does so much seem to boil down with -- go with your gut feeling -- ? These kinds of books really put science in perspective for me -- what is science -- it's what our culture chooses to use to explain the world -- our own versions of origin myths and explanations -- no better, no worse than others.... hmhmhm. Children too young to speak can be studied by what their eyes focus on, and how long they focus on it. Children pick up on a surprising number of concepts. Chapter 2: Empathy and Compassion. Not mutually exclusive concepts. Can you have morals if you do not exercise one or both of these? Psychopaths, who lack empathy, lack morals? How young do children/people express these concepts in their actions? Compassion makes you want to help people. Empathy helps you step into their shoes to understand what's going on. Chapter 3: Fairness and Equality. Are these natural instincts? What is egalitarian vs complex? Egalitarian is everyone looking out for themselves (selfish in a way) -- make sure you get your fair share of the pie. Complex hierarchies -- do they arise because your world is too big (150+ people? See M. Gladwell's Tipping Point) and so you can be duped into not getting your fair share? How do young children view fairness and equality? Is it ingrained or instinctual? Chapter 4: Disgust and Repulsion vs Purity. Things that make us wrinkle our nose, press our tongue against our teeth to keep the disgust from entering our system. This is the opposite of empathy. He discusses bodily fluids -- our disgust with blood, puss, mucus -- but not tears. Why not tears? Because they are clear and clean and pure? How much of our morals arise from these disgust insticts? The things that disgust us -- he discusses from an evolutionary biology perspective. They disgust us, repulse us, we avoid them, and this is the sentiment behind morals. Chapters 5-7/end of book: But the fact that things disgust us -- that's not enough to make them morals. Enter human reasoning. It is our ability and practice of reasoning things out that turns these feelings into morals. Children have an innate sense of morality -- fairness, right, wrong -- but it is growth and reasoning that shape those initial feelings. Children are also selfish (and adults) and so reasoning goes to that too. Do you justify your selfishness, or recoginze (via empathy) that you are just one person in a million, with no more right to special privilege than any one else?? Interesting discussion about how religions make use of morals, how morals are tied up in kinship, to identify familiar people and social norms, and how religion took it beyond our small kinship/social circles and turned it into a tool to manipulate and expand our social circles, expand inequalities. Hm hm. (want to read Liberty Under God -- religious manipulation for capitalism in the 1950s). How human touch makes people human to us, while our morals are a means of identifying our social kinship group/"otherizing" or separating people. How racism arises from this otherizing, but if kids are raced in diverse settings, then they are not prone to racism because diversity is the familiar norm. Etc etc. This was actually a really great book, one worth reading again to pick up on new details and ideas.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Paul Gibson

    I enjoyed this book overall. It was not at all technical but it was interesting and I would recommend it. I read some reviews before purchasing this book. I seldom pay much attention to whether people like a book I'm interested in or not, I'm more interested to hear their take on it. One reviewer chided the book for seeming too much like a pithy magazine article, and having now read the book, I might know what the reviewer meant. Too often the author's points were over simplified, and seemed to p I enjoyed this book overall. It was not at all technical but it was interesting and I would recommend it. I read some reviews before purchasing this book. I seldom pay much attention to whether people like a book I'm interested in or not, I'm more interested to hear their take on it. One reviewer chided the book for seeming too much like a pithy magazine article, and having now read the book, I might know what the reviewer meant. Too often the author's points were over simplified, and seemed to pass from scientific study to personal opinion within the same sentence. The author seemed to feel the need to spice up? his words by using language of pop culture. This wasn't necessary, it was distracting and even made me a bit suspicious of what I was reading. But these criticisms are likely more about me than about the author. I tend to read more technical stuff; philosophy and law, but here are a few things that rubbed me the wrong way: He once warns of the possibility? of "demonic genes proliferating and taking over the population, leaving us with a world of psychopaths". I wasn't sure if he was kidding or if there was any study to this affect. Maybe I should have expected this comment when the book has the selling title: Just Babies-The Origins of Good and Evil, so I let it pass. At another point he say that he wishes for a particular study, but he doubts anyone would ever do this study because his "colleagues, more fastidious than I am have ethical concerns." At another point he refers to a lawyer asking "Christ" something. Now it seem to me that the lawyer should be asking "Jesus" something. At another point he mentions how babies seem to prefer those who look most like their mothers; that babies prefer people of the same "race". But we both know that a baby knows nothing about "race". We, as a society, know precious little about "race" other than what we've learned, often in error. But then he walks this careless language back with a study that shows how this isn't the case when babies are born and cared for in a very ethnically diverse environment. But then he concludes by saying "the seeds of racism are there from the very start, in a simple preference for the familiar." Now, I don't think that a "preference" is necessarily "racist" but his looseness with these stories and conclusions are confusing in the least. And later he seems to tighten up his language a bit when he speaks of all of this as helping to, "explain our tendency to biologize race. Sometimes thinking, incorrectly, of distinct human groups as if they are distinct species rather than coalitions." At least he is finishing by saying something that needs to be heard and better understood. After these issues, the rest of the book seemed to go along fine. A few people complained that the author didn't say much of anything about good v. evil. I congratulate him on this. Psychologically this sort of dualism emphasizes a split that that pits our minds against each other; the I'm right and you're wrong syndrome. This leaves us with neither humility nor the desire to find understanding, forgiveness or common ground because we rule it out from the start.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maria Fournier

    Just Babies:The origins of good and evil drew my attention as soon as I heard about it. I have always been interested in the nature versus nurture debate in psychology and this book clearly talks about the debate. I was looking forward to reading this book in hopes of finally being able to decide what truly influences our behavior. Whether we are born that way or raised that way. Once I began reading the book I got hooked.In the beginning he talks about experiments conducted using babies to dis Just Babies:The origins of good and evil drew my attention as soon as I heard about it. I have always been interested in the nature versus nurture debate in psychology and this book clearly talks about the debate. I was looking forward to reading this book in hopes of finally being able to decide what truly influences our behavior. Whether we are born that way or raised that way. Once I began reading the book I got hooked.In the beginning he talks about experiments conducted using babies to discover what moral understandings we are born with and which are learned. Paul also spoke about different social issues/topics that are always used to question the biggest influences to our moral behaviors in the beginning of the book. Nobody can 100% say that you are born homosexual or became homosexual do to your surroundings and that’s what he was discussing in the beginning of the book. From there he goes on to talk about the development of emotions. Paul also dedicates certain chapters to specific studies. There is one chapter that is completely dedicated to moral instincts in which he mentions some of the most replicated psychological experiments which involve saving yourself and/or saving others. The end of the book actually contained the most interesting information to me. Paul mentioned which side of the debate he is more lenient to. He explained why he disagreed with those on the either side and stated what research he was going to do to try and disprove either side. He specifically mentions he was going to research religion and its influence on morals so we should be expecting a book on that soon. I truly enjoyed this book because no one side of the debate was being shoved down your throat for you to believe in their argument. You are just given a ton of facts and those facts are explained. I also like how he saved his opinion on the debate until the end to avoid an overload of obvious bias. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the nature versus nurture debate and to anyone who enjoys learning about morals and how they came to be.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aseem Kaul

    The problem with Paul Bloom's Just Babies is that it isn't just about babies. What starts of as a fascinating introduction to cutting-edge research in development psychology, quickly devolves into a series of undergraduate-level lectures on ethics and morality that are broad without being deep, and whose connection to the baby studies Bloom starts off with seems tenuous. It doesn't help that the research on moral sense in babies - their ability to distinguish helping from hindering, their tenden The problem with Paul Bloom's Just Babies is that it isn't just about babies. What starts of as a fascinating introduction to cutting-edge research in development psychology, quickly devolves into a series of undergraduate-level lectures on ethics and morality that are broad without being deep, and whose connection to the baby studies Bloom starts off with seems tenuous. It doesn't help that the research on moral sense in babies - their ability to distinguish helping from hindering, their tendency to reward and punish, their preference for equal distribution of resources, except when it's at a cost to them - is somewhat less impressive than advertised. A major theme of the first half of the book is that babies have an instinctive moral sense, but the fact is that study after study Bloom reports finds that these attributes are missing in very young infants and only develop after a certain age. I'm not a developmental psychologist, but to me that sounds less like a story consistent with the maturing of the child's instinctive moral sense (as Bloom would have it) and more like good old fashioned social conditioning. At most, the studies Bloom reports suggest that this conditioning happens earlier than most people suppose, which is interesting, but hardly apt to overturn moral philosophy. Mostly, though, Just Babies is disappointing because it's not Joshua Greene's Moral Tribes. I recognize that's an unfair criticism, but in all honesty I have to say that I would have appreciated Bloom's book more if I hadn't Greene's far more coherent, detailed and persuasive take on a closely related set of topics. If you read Bloom's book and enjoyed it, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of Moral Tribes.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Laura Brown

    For an academic piece on moral psychology, this book held my attention all the way to the end, which I wasn't expecting it to do. In a pondering on whether or not we are born with a moral compass, Paul Bloom (researcher/professor at Yale) explores the various realms of psychological study that have been conducted and what they teach us about how the human mind has evolved, how we relate to fellow humans and why, and what the implications are in our ability to control our own actions, regardless For an academic piece on moral psychology, this book held my attention all the way to the end, which I wasn't expecting it to do. In a pondering on whether or not we are born with a moral compass, Paul Bloom (researcher/professor at Yale) explores the various realms of psychological study that have been conducted and what they teach us about how the human mind has evolved, how we relate to fellow humans and why, and what the implications are in our ability to control our own actions, regardless of intuition into right and wrong. He believes that, through biology, humans beings most definitely are born with a sense of morality, and uses a heavy amount of evidence to present his argument as objectively as possible. He explores dozens of case studies into aggregate and fringe scenarios of human decision-making, and explains how our 'moral circle' is contracting and expanding over time (e.g. at one time people mutilated animals for fun). My favorite chapters covered the differences between empathy and compassion, the emotion of disgust (which I'd never thought of as an emotion before), and the differences in how we relate to our kin, our social in-group, and strangers. I also really like that he quotes Louis C.K. ;-) Overall a fascinating, enlightening, educating, and at many times entertaining read. I thought this book would be best reserved for prospective parents, but now that I've been through it it's a great read for any individual contemplating their own existence or morality.

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