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The Moral Instinct

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By Steven Pinker

The author’s main point in this article is that the human moral sense is a very complex organ. Steven Pinker is offering his deeper look which will help you rethink your answers about life and morality.  He’s providing a more objective view to help people get over their moral illusions, and he had the data to show it, from people in the lab, Web sites, and brain scanners. The main problem he is trying to address is the way society can be blinded when it comes to practicing or judging certain behavior, and the reasons behind our moral instinct.

The article was mainly concerned with description, and explanation. Pinker gives us a full description of universal morals, double standards, and how the morals within our society have changed. He analyzed the thoughts, feeling, actions and goals of people by researching surveys like the one anthropologists like Richard Schweder conducted on moral concerns around the globe which showed that there is five universal themes or colors of our moral sense: harm, fairness, community, authority and purity. Another experiment that provided us with more description was the one devised by the philosopher Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis called the Trolley problem, in which people are presented with two morally equal situations but give a different answer. He also gathered information about the way the brain works when making moral decisions. Explanation was also part of this article. He explains that the reason for double standards is obvious: “People tend to align their moralization to their lifestyles” He also explains that our moral opinions can be wrong at times. Autopsies, vaccination, blood transfusion, and organ transplants were denounced as immoral when they were new, but have changed our lives for the better.

Sociocultural, evolutionary, and humanistic are all psychological perspectives used in this article.  Steven Pinker explains that society affects the way we behave because it has created a set of morals for everyone to follow and punishment for those who don’t, despite the double standards people will follow said rules or morals because they’re part of a community, which is one of the five universal moral themes. Pinker also agrees with the idea of five spheres because they seem to have deep evolutionary roots. He says that “The impulse to avoid harm can also be found in rhesus monkeys, who go hungry rather than pull a chain that delivers food to them and a shock to another monkey.” Another evolutionary example he used to explain morality is the respect for authority that is clearly widespread in the animal kingdom.  He also says that morality is close to our conception of the meaning of life, using now a humanistic perspective he believes “Moral goodness is what give us the sense that we’re worthy human beings.”

Reading and studying this article provided me with useful information about the way we as humans act, and why. I started to analyze my own morals, and take a closer look at my behavior, especially when he talks about people believing that those who commit immoral acts deserve to be punished, and that they’re not troubled when inflicting pain on those who broke a mora rule. It was also surprising to find out that medical discoveries such as vaccination and artificial insemination were once morally wrong. Both of these facts not only surprise me, but make me reconsider all the moral rules I have always believed in, and followed.  



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