Thursday, February 7, 2008

Steven Pinker on Morality

Thanks to Brian for pointing out this piece.

Forget "can." Routinely does, more like it.

This sort of stuff is always compelling, but so many people seem to not want to think of it, to trust their shudder reflexes as reliable guides. (Much of Margaret Somerville's thinking is little better than rationalised shuddering.) In a democratic society, each citizen, for better or for worse, is in the position of being a moral arbiter. The more critical the individual's apprehension of moral issues, the better that person is bound to be as a judge and as an actor. Of course, some people will always be moral morons, but the less we encourage moral stupidity, the less dangerous those morons will be.

I'm reading William T. Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means (the condensed version, not the 7 volume behemoth), in which Vollmann examines the questions of moral calculi and justifications, valid and otherwise, for violent acts. Pinker's next book is to be on violence, too, I hear. Looking forward to that.

Other related reading I would recommend highly are Nietzsche's books On the Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good & Evil (Walter Kaufmann, trans.). Nietzsche was a ground-breaking iconoclast in the philosophy of morality and his insights have lost none of their sharpness with time.

1 comment:

Brian Campbell said...

I shudder to think...

but I can't seem to help it. Oh well.

You're welcome, by the way.