The uncertain biological basis of morality. Robert Wright’s review of Joshua Greene’s Moral Tribes” Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them and Paul Bloom’s Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil. Which would do more to help us get along with them — a moral theory we can all agree on or a better understanding of how we are wired to think and feel about them? “If Greene thinks that getting people to couch their moral arguments in a highly reasonable language will make them highly reasonable, I think he’s underestimating the cleverness and ruthlessness with which our inner animals pursue natural selection’s agenda. We seem designed to twist moral discourse—whatever language it’s framed in—to selfish or tribal ends, and to remain conveniently unaware of the twisting. So maybe the first step toward salvation is to become more self-aware.”
Clang Went the Trolley. Sarah Bakewell’s interesting review of two new books about the trolley problem: David Edmonds’ Would You Kill the Fat Man? The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us About Right and Wrong and Thomas Cathcart’s The Trolley Problem; or, Would You Throw the Fat Guy off the Bridge? A Philosophical Conundrum. Bakewell’s conclusion: moral philosophers need not worry about being out of a job.
“Are we governed by unconscious processes? Neuroscience believes so – but isn’t the human condition more complicated than that?” David Eagleman and Raymond Tallis offer different views.
Nicholas Kristof on “where is the love?” “For those who are well-off, it may be easier to castigate the irresponsibility of the poor than to recognize that success in life is a reflection not only of enterprise and willpower, but also of random chance and early upbringing.”
The neuroscientist who discovered he was a psychopath.“Why has Fallon been able to temper his behavior, while other people with similar genetics and brain turn violent and end up in prison? … ‘I was loved, and that protected me,’ he says. … Of course, there’s also a third ingredient, in addition to genetics and environment: free will. ‘Since finding all this out and looking into it, I’ve made an effort to try to change my behavior,’ Fallon says.”
Six famous thought experiments, animated in 60 seconds each. “From Ancient Greece to quantum mechanics, or what a Chinese room and a cat have to do with infinity.”
Jonathan Ree’s review of Alain Badiou’s survey of French philosophy since Sartre. “French industry as a whole was in poor shape at the end of the second world war, but one sector was soon reporting an export-led recovery: philosophy. … After the liberation French philosophy went global. Jean-Paul Sartre had been part of the system, working as a provincial prof de philo before reinventing himself as a novelist and playwright. In January 1945, after a dull but productive war, he was flown to New York as a guest of the US State Department, which was keen to show the wonders of America to the top brains of the new France. Sartre annoyed his hosts by comparing American imperialism to Nazi terror, but as far as intellectual trade was concerned, he hit on a winning formula. He was louche, exotic, and relatively young; and even if he hated the word ‘existentialism,’ it provided him with a memorable brand.”