a true advance in the discussion of evolutionary
explanations of morality, this book is highly
recommended for all collections.?
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.
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.