jueves, 13 de mayo de 2010

Inhereting Morality?

At the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University the researchers are conducting tests on infants that may show humans inheret a general moral instinct. In these tests babies were shown a play in which colored shapes with eyes or stuffed animals were in a situation where one helped and the other hindered an action. After the play the two puppets were placed in front of the baby and the baby would pick one up. 80% of the time the baby choose the puppet that had helped in the play. If this study indeed shows an ability to inheret basic morality it has huge implications in the world. Are some people inherently less moral than others? How should we punish criminals if they´re not completely culpable? Is this source of morality a locatable gene in our DNA? These questions would need to be answered if that is what the test proves, but there are so many variables that further studies need to be conducted. What is the contol? The babies should be shown an example where the three puppets are on the stage doing the same thing or just sitting there. Then the baby should pick between the three puppets. The different color, shape, and animal may be generally more popular among the babies. These questions could only be definitively answered if we could ask the baby why they chose that animal or shape.

There are a couple of assumptions made about babies that also need to be questioned in the article. It repeatedly states that babies appear clueless and helpless to moral and critical thinking situations. This may appear to be true, but if babies have a moral capacity, who is to say that they are not using it? In the journal Science Joseph Henrich and his study group stated that the degree of punishing unfairness and behaving kindly to strangers is higher in "large scale communities with market economies". The counterargument to this is that all people have some sense of right and wrong. However, morality is not like physics or math, because not everything is subject to a law like gravity in the universe of morality. People arrive at different answers for the simplest of questions.

The answer apparently is that it is evolutionarily beneficial to be kind to our kin and so therefore, it is possible that morality is genetically inhereted. The article correlates kindness to being subject to the laws of natural selection and so improving the fitness of the population. Here Darwin does have something to say:

"“The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” Charles Darwin, a keen observer of human nature, tells the story of how his first son, William, was fooled by his nurse into expressing sympathy at a very young age: “When a few days over 6 months old, his nurse pretended to cry, and I saw that his face instantly assumed a melancholy expression, with the corners of his mouth strongly depressed.”"

Empathetic responses may be evolutionarily connected, but it is very hard to relate general niceness or nastiness to genetics if it does not directly effect fitness, and furthermore, intraspecies competition dictates that nastiness towards others could improve one´s personal fitness, which is the real goal of a being according to Darwin.

However, it´s always a good discussion, and if we find the "morality gene" than I guess we´ll know we can trust!



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