Via Will Wilkerson, I learned of Richard Rorty’s very good review of Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds. He’s very critical both of Hauser’s moral nativism and of Hauser’s more optimistic claims about the study of moral psychology. John McKhail, who is a moral nativist, and has done some interesting work on the topic (which I’ve cited on this blog), replies to Rorty’s review here.
I’ve been talking about this subject for about a year now here on the blog, and have been interested in the literature (and thinking of ways to put my hat into the moral psychology ring) for a few years now, so I’m somewhat invested in this discussion. I haven’t read Hauser’s book yet (hey, Ecco, if you send me a copy, I promise to review it!), but I’ve been looking forward to it since I heard that it was coming out. I have to admit, though, that on the issues, I tend to find myself on Rorty’s (and Wilkerson’s) side. I’m generally to an empiricist (though I’m fickle), but in the case of moral judgment specifically, nativism feels a lot like the age-old attempt to find universal moral principles that has always failed, both in philosophy and in everyday life. The more I learn of moral psychology, the more I’m convinced that looking for moral principles at all, in the head, is the wrong way to go about it. It would be better to think about moral judgment as the product of moral theories (which are learned and mutable, and often used or even developed post hoc), along with the heavy influence of moral emotions, some of which may be the product of human evolutionary history.
The book should be an interesting read, though, and both Rorty’s review and McKhail’s response, along with hsi own work on the topic (some of which he links to in his post) are as well, so check them out.