Monday, April 07, 2008

The Moral Animal

Yes, that’s what we are - though not as moral as we’d like to imagine. Robert Wright wrote a great book back in 1994. I’ve had it on my “to read” list forever and finally decided that I just had to read “The Moral Animal. Why We Are Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology”. I’m glad I did and very happy to recommend it to anyone interested in the evolution of morals and ethics, how evolution has hidden our deepest drives and how it is responsible for the 1st sentient creature – one who thinks it understands the “self” but can’t possibly until individuals examine themselves in light of evolutionary psychology.

He also demonstrates quite effectively that we need not fear the new science as being like the Social Darwinism of the 19th and early 20th centuries. As Wright so beautifully puts it, the first creature to have evolved to the point where it can look upon its creator (Natural Selection) has also turned its back on the values that make it work so beautifully. In reality, there are no “values” to Natural Selection. It’s a mindless algorithmic process.

Now that we are able to understand how morals evolved, and what their purposes have been in various societies, it’s time for us to reevaluate them. Which morals need to be held on to and which discarded? I think most atheists, never having read a powerful book like this, will still have a pretty good idea what direction we should go.

Anyway, if you love studying evolution like I do, then this is a can’t miss read on an aspect of it that is still in it’s infancy, yet still so elegant and parsimonious that there can be little doubt that the theory is in large part correct.

7 comments:

The Exterminator said...

On your recommendation, I'll add it to my list. Maybe I'll bump it up a few places, because my current reading list will take me well into the 26th century.

Seriously, I hope we'll have an opportunity to discuss this book soon. It sounds very interesting.

John Evo said...

We've talked before about "good books to recommend to people who don't 'get' evolution, but are willing to learn" and this one goes on my list. It might even be more important than a book like "Beak of the Finch" because, for a lot of people, the hard thing to deal with is that WE TOO are part of the process! They can live with birds and reptiles evolving but they think about their "higher consciousness" and figure there's no way that it evolved too. Wright makes a very clear case.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Sounds like a good book. It's ironic that many of the people who refuse to credit evolution live trapped by its processes.

the chaplain said...

I bought this book a couple of months ago but haven't read it yet. I think it's turn will be coming up within the next two months.

Psychodiva said...

Thanks for the review- this one goes on my list- and I'd love to discuss it some time too :)

the chaplain said...

Shit! I think its (not it's) turn will be coming up soon. Damn possessive fucks me up all the time.

Brendan said...

I liked The Moral Animal. but I didn't love it. I found myself thinking about two-thirds of the way through, "This theory explains too much."

I suppose it's an unfair criticism, in retrospect. If it's not the Principia for evolutionary psychology, that's okay. It's still a good crack at exploring a new theory. It's also highly readable, even if one doesn't agree with all of it. I'd recommend it, too.