Contemplating morality with “Just Babies”

I’ve been thinking for almost a week about how to review Just Babies:  The Origins of Good and Evil, by Paul Bloom (Crown Publisher, 2013).  Despite the implied straightforwardness of its title, this is not an easy book to summarize.  And as I’ve watched current events unfold around the world, from the Brian Williams debacle to the ISIS threat, it strikes me that any attempt to explain the wellspring of what we know to be “good” or “bad” will of necessity be complex, fraught with contradictions and ripe for judgement by those who disagree with any belief system other than their own.

So I’m going to try to keep this simple.  Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale University, has spent years studying how much “morality” we are born with by studying babies.  Through a complex series of experiments, he has been able to show that “babies are moral animals, equipped by evolution with empathy and compassion, the capacity to judge the actions of others, and even some rudimentary understanding of justice and fairness.” But, of course, it’s not that easy, and a large portion of the book addresses how we arrive at a fully realized sense of “right” and “wrong” beyond that with which we are born.  I don’t know that I had any “aha” moments with this book, but I did enjoy the gentle and clear way in which Bloom explains how we grow into moral adults.

If this topic interests you, I can recommend Just Babies.  Bloom makes a complicated subject that has defined our human history accessible and understandable.  Even if you disagree with his conclusions, he gives you much to consider.

FTC disclaimer:  I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.



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