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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Moral Judgments (Update from AAAS)

Marc Hauser of Harvard University and David Sloan Wilson of Binghamton University, along with Samuel Bowles of the Santa Fe Institute and Judith Smetana of the University of Rochester, presented on "Moral Judgment: Evolutionary and Psychological Perspectives" yesterday morning. Hauser used it as another opportunity to promote his idea of a "universal moral grammar," which is hard-wired and leads to what he calls "spontaneous, fast, robust moral judgments." There's a difference between "judgment" and "justification," says Hauser, and in the same way that we can't explain why the underlying grammatical structure of language is the way it is, we can't access explanations for why something is right or wrong. According to Hauser, his research shows that there's a set of core moral principles we all share, and it's immune to cultural influences (including religious background). Wilson, on the other hand, said we have to "go beyond moral universals to explain cultural and moral diversity from an evolutionary perspective." Though, biologically speaking, humans are a single species, culturally we are more like a multispecies ecosystem, a point he supports using a study that compared liberal and conservative Protestant denominations. —Heather Wax