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Reaction to The Moral Instinct by Steven Pinker - Essay Example

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If two people enjoy themselves, have a good time together without harming anyone in return; they are just pleasuring themselves by ignoring the burden of morally acceptable norms for a while. …
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Reaction to The Moral Instinct by Steven Pinker
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Morality demands that Julie and Mark not indulge in an incestuous act. But viewing their actions from a ethical egoist point of view they had taken all precautions, were in mutual consent, and keeping the event under supreme secrecy. If two people enjoy themselves, have a good time together without harming anyone in return; they are just pleasuring themselves by ignoring the burden of morally acceptable norms for a while. This is what Steven Pinker tries to stress in his write-up in the New York Times(January 13, 2008) titled "The Moral Instinct" with more examples and theories.
He in fact favors Borlaug and Bill Gates over Mother Teresa in the choice of admiration and philanthropy. Borlough brought about the Green Revolution which still feeds millions of hungry mouths and Bill Gates aids missions to fight fatal diseases of the developed world. Pinker also contends that while Mother Teresa was backed by hefty donations from all quarters the other two were self motivated individuals expending their own time and effort in the up-liftment of humanity.
Pinter is critical of the entire question of morality and claims it to be passed on from one generation to the next and accepted without question because we were taught that way! He cites three predicaments where the choice is between morality and discretion. We discussed the first one at the beginning of this essay. The second example is about the American flag being cut and used to clean the bathroom. No individual with moralistic mindset would ever think of doing such a thing but come to think of from a rational point of view. The flag is pretty old and unused, when found serendipitously the owner thought of practical uses to it. Though it may be blasphemous to all patriotic citizens the woman in this example doesn't think so, it her own judgement.
The third instance is of a family eating a dead dog. Most of us find the idea repulsive but the persons involve did not harm anyone, not even the dog, it was already killed in an accident. Where does morality stand in all these circumstances
As per Pinker morality of one kind or the other is a universal phenomenon and may be rooted in the "design of the normal human brain". Whether the entire spectrum of morality is sacrosanct is very much debatable because people in general put their interests first , become selfish and their ego takes the better of them in crunch situations. That leaves morality as a figment, an illusion. The "Selfish Gene" as propounded by Richard Dawkins explains the universal desire by humans for self preservation, growth and sustenance with or without paying heed to morals. Even within a community it is the nepotistic altruism that prevails.
The Varieties of Moral Experiences:
Anthropologists like Shweder and Alan Fiske found out that certain themes, for example: a sense of fairness, loyalty to the community, reciprocation of favors, rewarding benefactors and punishing the cheaters were consistent across countries and cultures. The exact number of themes though differs.
A rigorous approach to human morality, like the one employed by Jonathan Haidt had identified the five moral instincts of harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity which made up the primary colors of "moral sense". Pinker had used vivid examples to illustrate each moral instinct.
Whether human behaviour is genetic or not is open to many questions. It can also be learnt adaptatively. Pinker insists that the moral sense is vulnerable to illusions as any other sense.
Genetic basis for Morality: There should be a genetic basis to the concept of morality because it is so ubiquitous and common across cultures. Again the self centered nature of humans could have contributed to a universal acceptance of right and wrong.
Aberrations from what is considered normal exist, though. The debates over global warming, homosexuality, atheism etc. nevertheless exist in the strictly supervised moralistic societal setup
A commentary on Pinker is best conluded his own way as Anton Chekhov wrote, "Man will become better when you show him what he is like."
Steven Pinker, The New York Times(January 13, 2008) "The Moral Instinct" Read More
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