Streams

Are Babies Born Good or Evil?

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Baby (Flickr: Kimberly Calderon)

Philosophers and psychologists have long believed that we begin life as blank moral slates, but Paul Bloom argues that we have a deep sense of good and evil when we’re born. In Just Babies The Origins of Good and Evil, he draws on groundbreaking research at Yale, he demonstrates that babies have a rudimentary sense of justice before they can talk. He also examines the morality of chimpanzees, violent psychopaths, religious extremists, and Ivy League professors, and explores our often puzzling moral feelings about sex, politics, religion, and race.

Some Highlights from the Interview

Americans in particular believe that religion (usually Christianity) is important for morality, but Bloom says, “Any simple claim that you need religion to be good is flat wrong.”

The main way young children communicate is through tattling—pointing out something that they think is wrong.

Racism doesn't appear to be hardwired at birth, but babies will look for and seize on whatever similarities they find with others and fall into one group over another. We see that continue throughout life.

Babies are empathetic, and empathy is important in developing morality. But Bloom is skeptical that it's the key to morality. He said empathy more of a catalyst for morality because it motivates one to want to help someone else who is in pain or is suffering.

 

Guests:

Paul Bloom

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Comments [18]

Regarding the question on sex differences, I think we’ve got to move beyond these rigid assumptions of gender essentialism that are still so pervasive in our culture and have severe societal repercussions. By framing it as “boys” versus “girls”, you exclude transgender and intersex children -- not to mention any other child who exhibits gender nonconformity -- making them invisible and marginalized. Gender identity is not binary; it is multifarious.

Feb. 04 2014 11:20 PM
Su from Queens

Regarding the question on sex differences, I think we’ve got to move beyond these rigid assumptions of gender essentialism that are still so pervasive in our culture and have severe societal repercussions. By framing it as “boys” versus “girls”, you exclude transgender and intersex children -- not to mention any other child who exhibits gender nonconformity -- making them invisible and marginalized. Gender identity is not binary; it is multifarious.

Feb. 04 2014 11:14 PM
Amy from Manhattan

nyer, that was definitely my experience growing up.

Feb. 04 2014 12:54 PM
Miss Marie from Everywhere

Has anybody explained to this researcher that human babies are the exact same species as adult humans? The way the human animal reacts is preprogrammed and instinctive from birth. If you rip the arm off of a baby chimpanzee it will react exactly the same as an adult chimpanzee would react if you rip it's arm off. We don't want to admit it in this "PC" legally-imposed culture, but the human animal has distinct preferences for race, sex, behavior, reaction. We just hate to admit it.

Feb. 04 2014 12:41 PM
Amy from Manhattan

It may not only be a question of how adults interpret the behavior of babies they perceive to be girls or boys. I saw a PBS program years ago in which adults were left in a room w/a baby boy dressed in "boy's clothes" or in "girl's clothes." When they thought the baby was a girl, the adults spent most of the time talking to them. When they thought he was a boy, they played w/him. So expectations based on sex are communicated very early.

Feb. 04 2014 12:39 PM
nyer

Isn't there much evidence that in the same family, parents often treat each of their kids differently, depending on such things as birth order, perceived ersonality or place in the family, expectations, gender, etc? If so, it seems you oversimplified the sameness of experience/nurture among siblings.

Feb. 04 2014 12:36 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I totally distrust all "social science" and I believe it should be called "social engineering," which would be closer to the truth. "Social science" is an oxymoron.

Feb. 04 2014 12:32 PM
John A.

It might be easy to conclude that current American society is in fact evil obsessed - many shows: Dexter,Breaking Bad, Hannibal, True Blood, with central characters that are mass murderers.
- - -
I got news from 'Studio 360' this week that there is a popularization of the 10 commandments in the works, with prominent directors, and I was thrilled to hear that the segment on 'thou shalt not kill' will center on a Drone pilot.

Feb. 04 2014 12:31 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I totally distrust all "social science" and I believe it should be called "social engineering," which would be closer to the truth. "Social science" is an oxymoron.

Feb. 04 2014 12:31 PM
The Truth from Becky

Uhmmm Noooo, Not "everyone" thought that about slavery.

Feb. 04 2014 12:30 PM
Amy from Manhattan

1. I don't believe in shades of grey. I believe in full-spectrum living color. Things are always more complex.

2. Has Dr. Bloom read the 12/17/13 article in the New York Times, "Terrible Twos Who Stay Terrible" or the studies it describes? Dr. Richard Tremblay says the behavior of a typical violent criminal is the same as that of a typical 2-year-old; about 5% of boys just don't grow out of using physical aggression to get what they want.

Feb. 04 2014 12:28 PM
maggie from nj

Speaking of a common enemy drawing people together--I've always thought this is the reason that the country has become so painfully politically divided since the end of the cold war. Once the jubilation faded, the enemy was gone, and we started to focus on the differences among ourselves.

Feb. 04 2014 12:21 PM

Leonard Lopate said nowadays people think less in terms of black-and-white; binary, absolutes, etc. and more in term of complexity, nuance, shades of gray, relativism, etc.

Funny, there at least three areas that come to mind immediately where Mr. Lopate (and, for that matter, his colleagues and many of his guests) demonstrate thinking that has little room for nuance and complexity and is simplistic, even reflexive, if not downright doctrinaire.

Feb. 04 2014 12:18 PM
Puddle from NYC

My dog had feelings of embarrassment - she behaved like a human being at times, when she felt embarrassment. I came home late one day to a puddle on the floor - I hadn't been there to take her on her normal walk, and she felt embarrassment, like she knew she had 'gone' in the house and didn't know how to justify it.
I, of course, knew the blame lay with me and made no mention of the puddle. I simple took her into another room , closed the door and proceeded to clean the puddle.

Feb. 04 2014 12:17 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

In the first Bible story, Adam and Eve are created clueless. They are presented with one taboo by their Creator: do not eat of the fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They break that taboo and are thrown out of their blissful state of ignorance and now have to work hard to survive. Their two sons become a farmer and a herdsman respectively. One son murders the other out of envy that God prefers one over the other. Sounds reasonable to me :)

Feb. 04 2014 12:13 PM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn

Wondering whether Paul Bloom studied at all with Chomsky, since Bloom did his PhD at MIT. Chomsky argued for the innateness of certain features of language, and his views on morality suggest that he takes something like an innateness hypothesis on morality. The philosopher and political science Joshua Cohen wrote an essay along these lines some years ago.

Feb. 04 2014 12:10 PM
John A.

Babies, babies. Isn't Paul just showing with his clever choices that we are a youth obsessed culture?
(Give me a wise old man, sometime)

Feb. 04 2014 11:33 AM
Ed from Larchmont

In Catholic theology the conscience is part of the soul. While the conscience has an innate sense of good and evil and right and wrong, it also has to be formed, both by the teaching of other people and by grace.

Feb. 04 2014 09:40 AM

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