Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Universal Moral Grammar... or Babble?

The psychologist Marc Hauser asserts that morality comes from our biology, not our "religion." In this article, he spells out his thesis. I think his reasoning has big gaps and is based on ill-defined terms and popular but poorly-informed history.

Firstly, I wonder what phenomenon qualify as religion. No doubt he throws Christianity, Judaism and Islam into the mix. But I wonder what he would say about nationalism. Yes, I know it's not a theistic religion, but many sociologists note that it certainly functions like one and today is even the most powerful one in America. It's the one religion for which people willingly give up there own bodies in a form of subjection (military service) and, even further, blood sacrifice (dying for one's country). Hauser might have done better to use the term "totalizing ideology." That takes into account nationalism as well as Marxism, capitalism, and any other "ism" which captures people's imaginations in such a way that their lives are oriented by it.

He asserts that religions which "teach compassion, forgiveness, and genuine altruism" are good. I want to know what tells him that these things are good. I'd also like to know what he thinks they mean. Does compassion have a limit in some cases? And I've heard many people (religious and atheist alike) speak as though certain crimes are unforgivable.

If what is morally right does not need to be taught since we get it biologically, then does the same principle apply to truth? If so, then why does anyone need to read Marc Hauser's babble? Apparently, we have already obtained the truth from the oracles of biology.

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