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Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  2,690 ratings  ·  309 reviews
From John Locke to Sigmund Freud, philosophers and psychologists have long believed that we begin life as blank moral slates. Many of us take for granted that babies are born selfish and that it is the role of society—and especially parents—to transform them from little sociopaths into civilized beings. In Just Babies, Paul Bloom argues that humans are in fact hardwired wi ...more
Hardcover, 273 pages
Published November 12th 2013 by Crown (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  2,690 ratings  ·  309 reviews

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"Our moral lives have two parts. It starts with what we are born with, and this is surprisingly rich: babies are moral animals, equipped by evolution with empathy and compassion, the capacity to judge the actions of others, and even some rudimentary understanding of justice and fairness. But we are more than just babies. A critical part of our morality—so much of what makes us human—emerges over the course of human history and individual development. It is the product of our compassion, our imag ...more
Larry Bassett
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I took a MOOC taught by Paul Bloom in January 2014. MOOC stands for massive open online course, free lecture and online discussion classes that are offered on the internet. The course was Moralities of Everyday Life. Bloom is a psychology professor at Yale University in New Haven, CT. This book was suggested but not required for the course. I enjoyed taking the course beginning in January 2014 but am just getting around to reading the book. It is pretty repetitious of the course but ...more
Susan (aka Just My Op)
I started reading this book just after 12-year old and 14-year old children were accused of killing teachers in two separate incidents. I so much want to understand such behavior, but I still don't have all the answers I want.

Although much of this book is about babies and their innate morality, it also relates to those of us who are well beyond that stage. It is written at a level easily readable by a lay person, such as I am, who is interested but not highly educated on the subject.

There were e
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Concise research and fabulous defining! I read this in one night instead of watching Monday Night Football and sleeping- that's how good it was. In the middle and late '90's while getting an MS I did attending, tracking, children's aversion, crowd interest trials of like manner to his baby exercises - all kinds of Cognitive Psychology research. So this was just up my alley and easy read. And yet I am a hard audience for excluding the variables and a most difficult marker on these kind ...more

Is a sense of right and wrong programmed into the human psyche at birth, or is the psyche blank and totally pliable, able to be fashioned just as easily into that of a conscionable being as into that of a psychopath? That is the question at the heart of Just Babies. Author Paul Bloom refers to the sense of right and wrong as “morality,” while at the same time acknowledging that that word can be hard to define:
“Even moral philosophers don’t agree about what morality really is, an
So here is my problem with this book - it never actually discusses the origins of "good" or "evil". In fact, it really feels like a hodgepodge of different theories on morality in general. While Bloom discusses morality in babies, he has a bad habit of jumping to conclusions in regards to the actual thought processes of the babies themselves based on the results of experiments. As a psychologist, and scientist, I feel that he should not be making any arbitrary conclusions, which he does several ...more
Mar 29, 2014 rated it really liked it

Well, first things first. This is not just about babies. While Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has done some of the most interesting work on the moral intuitions and behaviors of infants and toddlers, there isn't enough of that work to sustain a whole book.

Instead, he uses those experiments to launch a wide-ranging look at how we develop a moral sense. For those who study social psychology, much of this is well-trod ground, but Bloom is a good writer -- clear, succinct, with many good study example
Before I go into a TL;DR-style review I'll give you my summary thoughts: interesting book if you're someone who is curious about developmental and/or moral psychology and experimental methods. I happen to be one of those people, but if reading the names of the grad students involved in qualitative methods studies is a big turn off for you, then you might want to skip this one.

I read this in tandem with Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience, which enhanced my enjoyment of both books (t
Leo Walsh
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Just Babies by Paul Bloom begins with a captivating, science-based book offering an overview of what developmental psych tells us about infant and toddler's inborn morality. After tracing how morals develop as we age, Bloom moves into "trolley stories," which are little thought experiments cognitive scientists use to test morality of more mature subjects. Here's an example of a pair of trolley stories.

1) You are standing on a bridge over a railroad track, a train is approaching, and you see a vi
Dec 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, the-brain
Morality. Justice. Empathy. Compassion. Good vs. Evil. These terms represent norms that grease the wheels of society. The question amongst evolutionary psychologists is whether these concepts are purely created by nurture or are they foundations one is born with (and then is insulated through nurture). Paul Bloom, an acclaimed psychologist, presents his latter views in, “Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil”.

“Just Babies” combines developmental and cognitive sciences, psychology, philosoph
Elyse  Walters
Apr 01, 2014 rated it liked it
How do we look at moral reasoning? Across societies? Within a single society? Liberals versus conservatives? Cold blooded psychopaths? Environment: encourage kindness or cruelty. Neuroscientist can look at parts of the brain involved in moral reasoning.

I liked the beginning of this book. The author talked about contemporary moral differences.... Such as homosexuality. masturbation, religion, marriages, long hair etc. he talked about natural reactions people have towards lying. He talked about u
17th book for 2017.

There were some interesting research presented here, but it never seemed to come together as a whole.

The writing style and structure of the book really read as a rewrite of a series of undergraduate lectures (12?) on the (developmental) psychology of morality. Lots of different studies presented here, not super well integrated, either within or (particularly) across chapters. The problem with this sort of style this is that unless the reader can impose their own narrative thr
Nazbanou Nozari
Dec 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Started off great, then derailed. The first few chapters review very interesting empirical findings about what's innate in children and how it gives rise to morality, but the later pages become more about Paul Bloom thinking outloud, and stating, in my opinion, the obvious.
I like Paul Bloom. He argues interestingly. But his books are a bit too shrinked. He should cover more grounds.
Pete Welter
Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Blooms starts out this book where you might expect from the title, discussing morality experiments he and other have done with babies. Even before they have any capacity for verbalization, or even much movement, one can discover babies' expectations by monitoring what they look at and for how long. For object or situations they don't expect, they tend to look longer.

Using this technique, Bloom shows that certain kinds of morality, such as rewarding helpful behavior and punishing selfish or nasty
Jeanne Mixon
Nov 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A terrific book that unfortunately couldn't live up to its incredibly disturbing cover and title but that's okay. The only thing I didn't like were the blanket assumptions about liberals are like this and conservatives are like that. Many liberals support a strong government and many conservatives are racially aware.

The best chapters were "Bodies" and "How to be Good." I liked the idea that scientists looked to see if God had rewired our brains to be altruistic and concluded that He didn't. I'm
Cecily Kyle
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cutthroat
I have had this one my TBR for a little while now, and though intriguing I kept choosing other things first. However, I wish that wasn't the case because I actually found the information in this book really interesting and I didn't want to stop.
Great, fascinating Read!
Nov 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Paul Bloom and his wife Karen Wynn definitely did one of the greatest experiments in the history of moral development with pupets. but the point is, he is not a good writer.
first chapter is the best part of the book. other parts of the book seem unrelavent to each other and even to the babies since they are written about adults. also he does not describe others' experiments completely.
in general, the book is good as it gives you general idea about this field.
Dec 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Great read. Bloom wrote this book in a way that is accessible to lay readers without dumbing it down. He backs up his claims with lots of research and well-explained experiments. Thought provoking. Definitely worth reading if you have an interest in morality or psychology (developmental, cognitive or moral).
Nov 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great food for thought. Confirmed my suspicion that babies are pure evil. Wouldn't trust a baby as far as she could throw me...;). Seriously, read this book (especially if you're into moral philosophy and developmental psychology [but even if you're not; it's a terrific read]).
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Nice distinction between empathy and compassion. It appears we are not born moral consequentialists.
Apr 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
May 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
An interesting thesis, but the book itself never really seemed to get off the ground.
May 15, 2020 rated it liked it
For the general public, this is an adequate introduction into moral psychology and, to a lesser extent, moral philosophy. Bloom writes accessibly and his smarmy sense of humor will make you chuckle occasionally. I did not find the book’s format as compelling as it should’ve been, though. Each chapter consists of an overview of relevant research, followed by a brief conclusion in Bloom’s own words. After a while, it, unfortunately, become repetitive and a bit predictable. I guess I wanted more. S ...more
BLUF: Pass on this. This book discusses morality, but will not bring you much insight into the origins of good and evil, as the title suggests.

When you title a book “Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil”, your readers expect you to primarily talk about babies, goodness, and evil. Pretty straightforward, right? Not in this case. This book spent the majority of its content on goodness, about third of its content on babies, and very little content, if any, on evilness.

Essentially, this book i
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Chapter 1:
Beginning of the book starts well -- some musings on morality among different cultures, universalities, etc Describes studies where small children, ~ 1 year, demonstrate what seems to be an innate ability to differentiate between good and bad. The gut feeling seems to be at the core of it.
Reminds me of that how-to book on catching employees in lies. It all boiled down to gut feelings.
I'm wondering -- all our sciences, dissections, studies of humanity, of which neurons fire when, of w
Paul Gibson
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book overall. It was not at all technical but it was interesting and I would recommend it.
I read some reviews before purchasing this book. I seldom pay much attention to whether people like a book I'm interested in or not, I'm more interested to hear their take on it. One reviewer chided the book for seeming too much like a pithy magazine article, and having now read the book, I might know what the reviewer meant. Too often the author's points were over simplified, and seemed to p
Maria Fournier
Sep 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Just Babies:The origins of good and evil drew my attention as soon as I heard about it. I have always been interested in the nature versus nurture debate in psychology and this book clearly talks about the debate. I was looking forward to reading this book in hopes of finally being able to decide what truly influences our behavior. Whether we are born that way or raised that way. Once I began reading the book I got hooked.In the beginning he talks about experiments conducted using babies to dis ...more
Aseem Kaul
Jan 14, 2014 rated it liked it
The problem with Paul Bloom's Just Babies is that it isn't just about babies. What starts of as a fascinating introduction to cutting-edge research in development psychology, quickly devolves into a series of undergraduate-level lectures on ethics and morality that are broad without being deep, and whose connection to the baby studies Bloom starts off with seems tenuous.

It doesn't help that the research on moral sense in babies - their ability to distinguish helping from hindering, their tenden
Laura Brown
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
For an academic piece on moral psychology, this book held my attention all the way to the end, which I wasn't expecting it to do. In a pondering on whether or not we are born with a moral compass, Paul Bloom (researcher/professor at Yale) explores the various realms of psychological study that have been conducted and what they teach us about how the human mind has evolved, how we relate to fellow humans and why, and what the implications are in our ability to control our own actions, regardless ...more
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Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. He has published more than a hundred scientific articles in journals such as Science and Nature, and his popular writing has appeared in the Ne ...more

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