Table of Contents

 

The Author

 

How to Buy the Book

 

What they say about

The Moral Mind

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A study of what it is to be human

The Moral Mind

www.standrewstaunton.org.uk
 

 

Welcome

 

 ‘Marking a true advance in the discussion of evolutionary explanations of morality, this book is highly recommended for all collections.? David Gordon, Library Journal

 

How far is the idea of morality threatened by twentieth-century philosophical thinking? How far can evolutionary theory help us to understand our sense of right and wrong? Does the concept of absolute moral values have any validity, or is morality all relative ?just a matter of custom, culture and upbringing? How does moral thinking relate to religious belief? Can we find common ground on moral issues between believers and non-believers?

 

These are some of the questions explored in The Moral Mind. The author reviews the ways in which our moral thinking engages with different aspects of the human personality: with our instincts, inherited from our pre-human primate ancestors; with the way we follow the customs of our own people; and with our sense of something transcending these instincts and customs. The results of this survey form a body of evidence against which current theories can be assessed.

 

This survey of the human mind, focusing on the range and the role of moral thinking, represents a new approach to the subject, filling a gap in the literature and distinguishing the work from other books on morality. Although the approach is new, the book builds on the work of other writers. The ideas of philosophers such as Mary Midgley, Peter Singer and Anthony O’Hear are particularly relevant. Comparisons with the way other animals behave are also very relevant to an understanding of the moral mind, and here the book draws particularly on the work of Jane Goodall, Frans de Waal and Konrad Lorenz.

 

Several conclusions may be drawn from the survey. Perhaps the most important are:

 

(1)            Moral thinking is deeply embedded in the human personality, an important part of what it is to be human. The future of humanity depends upon our willingness to understand, nurture and apply our moral sense, rather than deriding or denying it.

 

(2)            Viewed in evolutionary terms, however, the moral mind is not essential to our biological nature. Other species manage well without it, and there is no reason to believe that human-like creatures could not also prosper without it. A great deal of human thinking and behaviour, both good and bad, can be understood in the context of our animal ancestry, but the moral sense ?the capacity to make a judgement that some behaviour is morally good and some is bad ?is unique to human beings and cannot be explained in terms of current evolutionary theory. Evolutionary psychologists have tried to explain it, but their efforts don't stand up to scrutiny.

 

(3)            Although for many people moral thinking is associated with religious belief, the two are not identical ?indeed, they are sometimes in conflict. The moral mind is something that believers and non-believers have in common, and there are many opportunities for agreement on moral issues.

 

To sum up, then: we have a definite sense of right and wrong: words like right, wrong, good, bad and fair mean something ?even if their full significance remains elusive ?and in using them we are seeking to engage with something outside ourselves, expressing more than just a personal opinion. The moral dimension is real, a part of the universe that we inhabit, and humans seem to be the only species with the capacity to recognise it and engage with it.

Having said that, all attempts to explain it fail. Moral thinking is not all a matter of upbringing, all a matter of culture, all a matter of evolution. It's not even all a matter of religion.

 

 
 

Page updated 19/02/2011

 

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