This one comes courtesy of Dave Mitchell, at the tail end of another wide-ranging conversation. The article is “long as hell,” but fascinating in that it describes how scientists are starting to focus in on how our inborn moral sense works.
I had mentioned to Dave the experiment that was making the rounds a few years ago, where Capuchin Monkeys were tossing aside perfectly good slices of cucumber because they had seen another monkey rewarded with grapes. Which, I mentioned, makes me think of pretty much every collective bargaining session I’ve ever been involved with.
Anyway. The NY Times devotes considerable space to this topic. A sampling:
our heads can be turned by an aura of sanctity, distracting us from a
more objective reckoning of the actions that make people suffer or
flourish. It seems we may all be vulnerable to moral illusions the
ethical equivalent of the bending lines that trick the eye on cereal
boxes and in psychology
textbooks. Illusions are a favorite tool of perception scientists for
exposing the workings of the five senses, and of philosophers for
shaking people out of the naÃ¯ve belief that our minds give us a
transparent window onto the world (since if our eyes can be fooled by
an illusion, why should we trust them at other times?). Today, a new
field is using illusions to unmask a sixth sense, the moral sense.
Moral intuitions are being drawn out of people in the lab, on Web sites
and in brain scanners, and are being explained with tools from game
theory, neuroscience and evolutionary biology.