Thursday, December 29, 2016

Paul Bloom - Just Babies - The Origin Of Good And Evil (Broadway, 2014) ***

Yale University psychology professor Paul Bloom ask the simple question: "is morality innate or the result of education?", and this book gives the results of his studies on the moral attitudes of babies and young children. Babies? Yes, studies can be conducted with babies as young as six months to determine their preferences for helping or obstructing characters in very simple tests. Obviously, this will not be reflected in their own behaviour, but babies seem to make judgments very early on about good and bad, about kindness or cruelty. At a later stage, children do show kind behaviour, but until the age of four only towards people they know, never for instance to adults they haven't met before.

The most violent time of everybody's life is around two years old, and as Bloom points out "Families survive the Terrible Twos because toddlers aren't strong enough to kill with their hands and aren't capable of using lethal weapons".

But Bloom goes further, and gives the results of experiments of generosity and altruism, just to check how moral people are and how selfish. He checks how group-thinking and racial bias occur and at what age, and especially under which influence, as well as the feelings of disgust and moral judgments.

"Just Babies" is an easy to read and enlightening book, and it ends with the positive message that it is possible to transcend some of our innate selfishness, by our unique human capabilities of imagination, compassion and rational thought.

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