Are We Born Knowing Right from Wrong?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

baby hand motherhood kids parenting (Bridget Coila/flickr)

Paul Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale and the author of Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil (Crown, 2013), argues that even though research shows we're born with a sense of justice, reason plays a part in how society defines morality.


Paul Bloom

Comments [29]

Anne from charleston

Children who see a mother battered by a father with status, and see that the mother does not get help while the father is promoted, and eventually making 5 times the money of the mother, know it is wrong. But interview children who live through poverty with a poor mother who was battered while they see the father driving sports cars and citizenship awards eventually follow the father = they naturally want to succeed and have status. How do we justify this? How do we justify that we put a lot of media coverage on athletes who have trauma to the head, when battered women are never addresses for the same problem. Behaviorists are right- we need to understanding the rewards to the aggressor and the punishments to those who are trying to care for others.

New research on bullying shows that it is the person who gives - the do gooder who gets bullied, and often the reason is that she has abilities and good behavior that the aggressor does not have.

Let's look closer at morality - the hypothetical dilemmas are interesting, much like Kohlberg's saying it is how we think, not how we act that is important. But it is very important how we act. Why do we reward the big guy a the expense of the person of the person who is trying to protect others?

Nov. 16 2013 05:56 PM
Ed from Larchmont

It's funny how the scientist assumes the materialist worldview. In this area he is saying that his findings are consonant with this worldview. But his findings are also consonant with the Catholic doctrine of original sin- human beings are created good, very good, and are still capable of good, but are damaged by the effects of original sin, and have as a result also tendencies to do bad. I think the source of religion is not is area.

Nov. 13 2013 08:19 AM

good grief

Nov. 13 2013 12:17 AM

Mr. Bad.

Thanks you for explaining to me what morality is. That is an absolute, clear cut definition. I shall carry it around with me wherever I go. Your wisdom has enlightened us all.

Nov. 13 2013 12:13 AM

Mr bad

Nov. 12 2013 10:57 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ hjs11211

I didn't grab my comment from Wikipedia which is why it doesn't match exactly the sentence you pasted from Wikipedia. If I Wikipedia something I post the link.

Also, it's hilarious that a guy who obviously googgled "morality" thinks he has something interesting to say about it (which you obviously do not) to me or anyone else.

Nov. 12 2013 07:00 PM

Hearing him say that peoples expressed concern over a child falling in a well over the problem of "global warming" is a flaw in our ethics and so too when we give a hungry man food or money in Africa; [that will prevent their economy from growing is his rationale] was chilling to hear. To me those are unethical responses to human suffering. The Jews say it best; if you save one person it's like saving the whole world. Your guest is advocating an ethics that is about numbers and if successful as it may one day be, as this atheistic/humanistic movement seems to be gaining momentum-then one day we may have not only death panels but Stalinist like purges-all for the sake of the good of the people -of course.

Nov. 12 2013 04:04 PM

Mr bad
Where did you find this definition of morality?
Your dictionary is as silly as you are
Wikipedia says "morality .. is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are "good" (or right) and those that are "bad" (or wrong.)" you missed part of that sentence when you cut and pasted.
Morality is a distinction between good and bad.
To help is good. To be greedy is bad. We didn't have to be in 6th grade to understand this.

Nov. 12 2013 03:52 PM
Steven Rudin from Massapequa Park

A very interesting discussion. Watching my 11 month grandson I seem to see a reason why babies have a friend versus foe view of the world. It is a matter of survival. Young children cannot defend themselves against someone who might harm them, so in the case of my grandson, if a group of people enter the room he will actively look around to see who he knows. If he can't find someone he feels safe with he will cry. Sometimes he will sort of "bond" with one person he knows, and insist on being carried around until he considers the situation to be safe. As we get older it takes active learning to overcome these early tendencies. I think most of us remain tribal to a certain extent, even it only manifests itself in terms of what college someone went to, where they grew, or what beer they drink.

Nov. 12 2013 02:25 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

A primer for people who don't understand what morality actually is:

1.) Intention
2.) Decision
3.) Action

Ethics deals with the study of the aforementioned components of morality. It DOESN'T have anything to do with your own feelings, rationalizations, needs, desires or motivations be they good or bad.

Nov. 12 2013 11:57 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ MichaelWNYC

Wut? How are compassion and empathy moral? What choice is made? How is justice and fairness moral, they are both processes or if you like nouns that represent end results of those processes. You have a 5th grader's grasp of morality i.e. a good person is ... "Bad" people can behave morally and "Good" people can behave immorally. How does this basic stuff pass you by, chum?

Nov. 12 2013 11:50 AM

Paul bloom made some erroneous claims about "atheist" countries. Citing Sweden which is 11% atheist. Is that a majority? He should be held to account on your show. Thank you

Nov. 12 2013 11:48 AM

Religious people donate more to charity only when you count their religious institution (tithing, etc) as a charity (and most of that money goes toward running the institution, NOT helping the community). When you take that out of the equation, things even out considerably.

Nov. 12 2013 11:38 AM
John A

A Yale representative advertising against religion? Hand is hovering over the reject button. It is important to realize that the average person doesn't have time to get a PhD in moral reasoning, hence the the theologists...

Nov. 12 2013 11:38 AM
John A

Fill your baby up with moral stories before the normal casual amorality gets to them.

Nov. 12 2013 11:33 AM
jgarbuz from Queens


I think babies should be made in factories and have no parents at all.

Nov. 12 2013 11:33 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The Nordics or Scandinavians were among the last of the white "savages" (Vikings) of Europe to accept Christianity, so it's not a stretch to understand that they would be amongst the first to go totally atheist, especially since government is the big daddy in those countries.

Nov. 12 2013 11:31 AM
Robert from NYC

I've alway said children should be taken away from their parents at birth. Was a joke but maybe not a bad idea... in most cases these days.

Nov. 12 2013 11:31 AM

@Bad from NYC: how are compassion, empathy, fairness and justice not moral phenomena? Are you maybe confusing morality with superstitions masked as morality, as in the static pseudo-moral codes of the Abrahamic religions? Those are encrustations over real moral principles, of which compassion, empathy, fairness and justice are key contributors.

Nov. 12 2013 11:28 AM
Robert from NYC

He said, "like people they..." doesn't he consider babies people?! I do I find that interesting that he might not consider them people. But maybe it was just some mistake to say people instead of adults.

Nov. 12 2013 11:25 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I do NOT believe that babies (or any creatures) are "born good," and do believe that racial and ethnic fear, suspicion and prejudice IS inborn, and that we do have to socialize and civilize children to overcome their inborn prejudices and fears.
There is a natural fear or suspicion or aversion of those who look different, from different ethnicities or "races," and only education and actual social mixing with open minds and open hearts can overcome these natural inborn prejudices.

Nov. 12 2013 11:25 AM
Tony from Canarsie

The sad thing is they grow up to be just like us.

Nov. 12 2013 11:24 AM

I am curious how the Professor's work supports Gilligan or Ellis' work on relational ethics?

Nov. 12 2013 11:24 AM
RCT from NYC

Summary: we are tribal. We protect and empathize with members of the tribe and defend against outsiders - I.e. Are pack animals.

Nov. 12 2013 11:23 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

NEWSFLASH: Parents believe their children to be good.

"Compassion, empathy, fairness and justice"? Are you joking? NONE OF THOSE THINGS ARE MORAL PHENOMENA OR CHOICES! I had a philosophy professor who was a very down to earth guy, he didn't think philosophy could solve the world's problems only that there were certain problems that aren't amenable to scientific inquiry and morality is one of those things. This guy is a joke and a fraud trying to sell a book...

Nov. 12 2013 11:22 AM
John A.

Hope I'm reacting to what the book actually is and not just Brian's lofty intro...

Nov. 12 2013 11:12 AM
John A

We are a culture that has been valuing babies attitudes and animals sexuality for over a generation. If we don't grow up soon we'll just get more infantile hell by the hands of the big baby New Gingrich and Ted Cruz's that people hire to speak for them. If Paul Bloom is true to the subject then I hope he hits, hits big and brings popular culture along with him.

Nov. 12 2013 11:01 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

LOL, clearly not, more of an innate understanding of "tit for tat". Kids are innocent themselves but also of the consequences of their actions, they are completely amoral.

If knowing right from wrong means differentiating from what is inherently bad and inherently good with reference to shared humanity then kids are most certainly not born with that sense, they can be just as cruel to each other and to weaker life forms (like animals) as any adult sadist.

Short answer:

Psychologists come and go but psychology remains a pointless exercise and pseudoscience. This guest is the foremost practitioner of that black art, way to go, hope you sell a lot of books! Put them in the astrology section you're targeting the same demo...

Nov. 12 2013 10:05 AM
Ed from Larchmont

'I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts' Jeremiah.

We are born with a conscience, an innate sense of right and wrong, but it has to be educated, strengthened, and directed also.

Nov. 12 2013 09:19 AM

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