What Makes Us Good

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mark Matousek explains why he believes that, contrary to what we've been taught in our reason-obsessed culture, emotions are the foundation of ethical life, and that without emotions, human beings cannot be empathic, moral, or good. In Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good, Matousek examines morality from a scientific, sociological, and anthropological standpoint.

At 19:50 you can hear Leonard's reaction to the earthquake!


Mark Matousek

Comments [20]


Leonard is right - the neocortex exists in all mammals, not just humans. Which sorta undermines the guest's conclusion.

Aug. 27 2011 05:45 PM
Alex from Park Slope


At 19:52 in the podcast version I see you every-so smoothly say "I think we may have just experienced an earthquake." Well done! You kept your cool, and kept on going. True professionalism!

Aug. 24 2011 01:08 AM
Ash in Chelsea

I too felt my building move. I live ion the 15th floor of a building in Penn South in Chelsea.

Aug. 23 2011 02:00 PM
See from NJ

Tremors felt in summit NJ too - no subway here

Aug. 23 2011 01:59 PM
Tony Davis from Brooklyn


I too felt my building sway here in Brooklyn.

Aug. 23 2011 01:58 PM
smh from CT from CT

You're right; earthquake tremors also felt here in Fairfield County.

Aug. 23 2011 01:58 PM
Andrea from Philadelphia

Leonard--Definitely an earthquake. I'm in Philadelphia and felt it here too.

Aug. 23 2011 01:57 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I just felt the earthquake here in Far Rockaway, in a 20 story buidling. You are not imagining things!

Aug. 23 2011 01:56 PM
Vic from .

As for moral issues & the choices that we make...
I'm a big fan of the film, MICHAEL CLAYTON.
...& what are our children learning from us now ~ (?)
(Henry) > "Realm & Conquest"
"Nothing is certain..." (Gogo)

Aug. 23 2011 01:54 PM
Jane from Brooklyn

This author is not a scientist but seems to be claiming a scientist's authority, or am I missing something?

Aug. 23 2011 01:51 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Other animals don't have this ethical dilemma. For most life is simple: survival or not. Only we have "moral dilemmas." We appealed to the Gods to give us guidance, but many no longer believe in God or gods, nor seek guidance from them. So what are we to do?

But I agree with Ed to an extent. My mother was hidden by TRUE Christians who saved her and 4 other Jews in the Holocaust. Most nominal "Christians" were not willing to stick out their necks, and some even collaborated. But many if not most of the Jews who did survive the Holocaust only did so because someone, usually a Christian, was prepared to put his or her life and his family life at stake of suffering a horrible death to save people who did not even share their basic beliefs.

Those who were ready to lay down their lives to save others whom they don't even personally like, is probably the highest test of true Christian love.

Aug. 23 2011 01:44 PM

How does neuroplasticity fit in? If we're wired a certain way can we be rewired, or rewire ourselves?

Aug. 23 2011 01:42 PM
Robin from Queens

Far more articulately than I can, C.S. Lewis argued that the moral compass all of us (most?) are born with is directional evidence of the existence of God.

Aug. 23 2011 01:41 PM

could not agree more. i'm so tired of the cult of reason and logic,as something that is presumed to exist in a suspended vacuum,in some rarefied space, devoid of the intuitive,compassionate,and the reasonable. i think the religious right, is very much guilty, of using a very primitve form of, so called logic,to try and justify their warped sense of humanity and politics.they are neither reasonable nor spiritual.

Aug. 23 2011 12:27 PM
John A.

I look forward to this discussion.
Most people would say that ethics are reasoned primarily, but the human existence is to face emotions regularly. Laws and ethics are meant to cultivate emotions, not destroy them. Discuss away.

Aug. 23 2011 12:18 PM
Henry from Manhattan

“emotions are the foundation of ethical life, and that without emotions, human beings cannot be empathic, moral, or good.”

This notion isn’t controversial in philosophy or science of the mind at all. It’s a pretty old idea, David Hume espoused it and quite a few other modern philosophers. Ancient Greek philosophers did, eastern philosophy did, and modern biology and neuroscience does well to back it up.

Still, should be a good segment, but it’s not much of a contrarian view unless you’re picking specific philosophers to challenge.

Aug. 23 2011 10:57 AM
Henry from Manhattan

“contrary to what we've been taught in our reason-obsessed culture”

LOL! Which “reason obsessed” culture are we talking about? I’d like to consider moving there, I’m pretty sure that it isn’t this country.

Aug. 23 2011 10:47 AM
Henry from Manhattan

@ Ed from Larchmont
“Matousek examines morality from a scientific, sociological, and anthropological standpoint.”

Note the context. This probably isn’t going to be a theological discussion.

Really though, one still needs to care about Jesus, and empathize with his trails, in order to derive any meaning. Seems to reinforce Matousek’s point.

Aug. 23 2011 10:44 AM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca

Please address how the emotions can be the basis of ethics when they are so varied and so changeable. Their variation allows for the existence of those who relish extremely bad acts, and their changeability allows for an individual to intend to do good (however she might see it) one minute and the next not bother.

Aug. 23 2011 10:39 AM
Ed from Larchmont

For a Christian, we can always look to the Cross to learn about love and morality. Jesus did not feel like going to the Cross, he didn't want to go to the Cross, but did so for the good. So emotions aren't the last word in good action.

Aug. 23 2011 08:34 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.