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Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  985 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
In his groundbreaking book, Marc Hauser puts forth a revolutionary new theory: that humans have evolved a universal moral instinct, unconsciously propelling us to deliver judgments of right and wrong independent of gender, education, and religion. Combining his cutting-edge research with the latest findings in cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, evolutionary b ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published September 4th 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published August 22nd 2006)
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Brian Carnell
Mar 28, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book, but given the author's subsequent disgrace for faking research data, book is not trustworthy.
Marc Chéhab
There's an interesting set of moral dilemmas in this book, true. However, the author is proven to have fabricated data in his research (check wikipedia), which is THE capital sin in science and I therefore burnt the book.

Ok, I did not. But another interesting point is this: Hauser in this book attempts to argue that we got an innate moral grammar, like Chomsky's grammar of language. However, at this, he really fails even with fabricated evidence - so a double fail really.

I gave it two stars bec
Jun 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
My first Goodreads goes. Moral Minds is the latest book from Marc Hauser, a cognitive ethologist (for lack of a better or more accurate title) who has written widely on animal behavior, communication and cognition. His last book 'Animal Minds' made me want to read this one, and it's probably the most interesting book I've read so far this year.

In Moral Minds, Hauser sketches an outline for a theory of an innate moral capacity in humans. Using Noam Chomsky's theory of language in h
Kevin Saldanha
Dec 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
how evolution shaped our morals.. and religion destroyed them
Bob Nichols
Hauser argues that we have an innate moral faculty. Like the language instinct of Chomsky, a moral “organ” is built into our biology. Evidence for this he states is seen cross-culturally, in a universal propensity for fairness and reciprocity, and within young infants. As to what this moral faculty is, Hauser contrasts his favored Rawlsian position with Hume’s emotions and Kant’s pure logic, yet draws lessons from each. From Rawls, Hauser states that moral principles are innate and unconscious. ...more
Nov 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Wow. What a beast.

I've read bigger, thicker, and denser nonfiction texts, but for some reason this book was one of those that just continually drew itself out. I fell back to all of the usual tactics involved in reading a book that just never fully engages you: pick up other books to read simultaneously, read it in short, 3-page segments, forced reading sessions with the primary goal of "just finishing it finally" ...

That said, I find it to be a little bit disappointing considering that this boo
Apr 28, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Explores the idea that, parallel to our natural language instinct, we ahve a moral instinct. Much reference to studies of children and their development between 3 and 5. Much loooking at non-human moral activities such as sharing, reciprocity, and evaluations for punishment. He believes, but cannot prove, that we have an essential moral grammar -- a capability and lean toward moral issues. But the content is like the distinct words that a child takes up as she lives with a particular language -- ...more
Matt Young
This book, to me, signals the empiricist taking the stage in an age-old philosophical battle. Is morality something we have been imbued with by evolution or is it something more mystical. Hauser -very persuasively- argues towards teh evolutionary side. Granted, this is new territory for science but they are making some headway. Although it is dry at times, you will walk away from this with a new outlook.
Sep 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We're reading this book in Dershowitz's class right now. It's a pretty interesting theory: the author contends that all of humanity is born with an innate and biological sense of morality, very similar to Noam Chomsky's belief in an innate and biological language structure. We're not finished yet, but so far, it's a very interesting theory that I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced by. Certainly worth reading.
Jan 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Sasha by: Gabriel Rodriguez
Shelves: favorites
This is an excellent book. Not only does it present a ton of information, it does so in a way that's accessible to everyone. Unlike others I'd discussed this book with, I actually enjoyed the pictures and simplified examples. It made for some lighter reading despite its delving into a question that is both scientifically valid and complicated in answer.
Marc Hauser presents his theory of morality based on a biological system analogous to the language system, that sets basic operating rules which are shaped during development. While the content and research review is interesting and relevant to those interest in the field, the author's writing is confusing and the evidence presented makes a weak case for his argument.
Kirsten Uhler
Marc Hauser presents some compelling experiments, studies, and thought-provoking scenarios that would cause one to examine their "moral" code. He shows that we have an innate moral faculty.

I found the book a bit long and wordy, however. Hauser seemed to provide a lot of detail but failed to make it clear how his examples support his argument.
Joel Silverberg
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was so cool. Never have I found a really thick and heavy work of academic literature so fascinating. This isnt a book that you have to pick up two or three times to get through. He approaches the findings from his research so eloquently that it makes this unique piece of what would usually be dry philosophy pure gold and a non stop learning experience.
Jillian Mac
Thoroughly discredited as an academic. Still a good read.
Pierre Gilly
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Margaret T.
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
OK, so it's l-o-n-g. But it's also fascinating. I like non-fiction for before-sleep reading, and while this book does not put you to sleep, it's easy to tell when the brain says "enough for now" and it's easy to pick up where you left off. I think I also like it because it confirms (after three children) what I already knew!
Leila P
Very interesting.
Aug 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very cool examples of moral dilemmas. Ties in the evolutionary development of the moral mind. Starts to drag a lot in the last 1/3rd.

From Publishers Weekly
How do humans develop their capacity to make moral decisions? Harvard biologist Hauser (Wild Minds) struggles to answer this and other questions in a study that is by turns fascinating and dull. Drawing on the linguistic theories of Noam Chomsky, Hauser argues that humans have a universal moral grammar, an instinctive, unconscious tool kit for
Joel Justiss
Feb 06, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ethics, evolution
Hauser, a psychology professor, focuses his attention in this book on fairness.
28 Empathy moves as a form of contagion, like a game of emotional tag. [It spreads more easily by personal contact.:]
97 A social norm functions as a group marker, a signature of shared beliefs.
133 Machismo dominates in the South, leading to a culture of honor.
135 In the South, not only are people more likely to respond aggressively to insult, but they expect others to respond violently to insult.
137 There are innate d
Thomas Olsen
A mess of a book in a field that I find fascinating. Hausser fails to get his rather simple points accross as they are submerged in excessive and sometimes irrelevant examples. I found it difficult to grasp the message of this book other than him arguing heatedly in favor of an evolved moral faculty. Whether the examples and science he cites backs that up or not was quite hard to tell. Two stars for being an easy read, but other than that this is very skipable.
Mar 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This I must admit, was a riveting read. I had to consciously put aside the fact that the author, since writing this book several years ago, has been charged and investigated for fraudulent scientific findings.
Nonetheless, the very subject of morality is, or should be, a universal human concern so i was interested in his theories on the matter.
Hauser essentially makes distinctions between the deontological, 'Kantian' creature, where morality is rules rather than outcome based; the 'Humean' creatu
Frank Jude
Feb 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in ethics, naturalism etc.
The sub-title of the edition of this fantastic book is "The Nature of RIght and Wrong," but the sub-title of the later edition shown here is much more on point. Hauser, a professor of psychology, organismic and evolutionary biology and biological anthropology at Harvard, offers a detailed exploration of how humans developed our 'moral mind.'

Using the model of language and its development and acquistion, he shows how underlying the cross-cultural variation seen expressed in soclal norms throughou
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found the book a bit long and wordy, however. Hauser seemed to provide a lot of detail but failed to make it clear how his examples support his argument.
Jan 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hauser, and other biologists in this field, had a great idea: instead of philosophical/theological debate about morality, which has been going on for thousands of years with no one getting anywhere (e.g., 2500 years with no real answer to the Euthyphro dilemma), let's use science! Because science can actually figure out what the heck is going on.

Hauser frames the book as a debate between Kantian (pure reason) and Humian (pure emotion) ideas about the base of ethics, and finds each inadequate alo
Aug 11, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ethics
Informative read, if not a bit difficult at times. Hauser's primary thesis is that we, humans, have a natural moral instinct, in the same way that many modern thinkers have argued that we have a natural language instinct. The book refers to many different studies and experiments, often dealing with children during the young cognitive development, to help put forth Hauser's theory. The book also contains a nice summation of various ethical schools of thought, including most prominently Kant, Hume ...more
Oct 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
Overall, I got a lot out of reading this book, but it was unevenly written. Really engaging portions were scattered among sections that were unnecessarily dry. It took quite some time to read because I set it aside so many times when it drifted away from more interesting material.

When I browsed through before buying, I flipped to a section in which moral dilemmas are discussed. There are several what-would-you-do scenarios, and it analyzes what answers people often give and the likely reasons wh
Apr 29, 2008 added it
Shelves: readpartof
This book approaches the study of morality with the methodology of generative grammar. Moral knowledge appears to display the same systematic variation and continuity across individuals and cultures that is found in language, and develops, as language does, without explicit instruction. That suggests that moral knowledge is largely innate, with some general principles known by all human beings, and variation explained in terms of values of parameters set by differences in experience.

That's a fa
This was given to me by a friend in college. I've been reading it on and off for years now. I really feel like the author did a ton of research on a subject and then patchworked it together to see if he could make some money off of it in book form. It was generally very dry. It usually didn't seem to be going any specific either, I kept asking myself "what does this really have to do with the nature of morality?". At a very small level it all made sense, but almost the entire book was at that sm ...more
Apr 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Moral Minds will become a well-referenced contribution to the naturalization of human morality. The jig may not be entirely up for those who support a supernatural origin of ethics, but arguments like Hauser's put it on life support. Although the analogy is not original to Hauser, his presentation of moral development as being analogous to language development is as well done as I've seen. He also does a fine job of linking the traditional philosophical analyzes of morality (Rawls, Hume, etc.) w ...more
Dec 11, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Philosophical minds
Shelves: already-read
Though it's not a particularly easy read nor is it short, Hauser does a nice job convincing the reader that human morality is purely a product of our biology rather than our external experiences, be it our parental teachings or our religious beliefs. The entire basis of his argument is a stretch hinging on the coupling of morality and the study of human language but he successfully marries the two well with anecdotal analogies which keep the book moving. Definitely recommended if you have some t ...more
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My training is the biological sciences, but with broad interests in human nature, including its evolution. My writings, including academic and trade books, as well as over 200 scientific papers, cover the disciplines of animal behavior, evolutionary biology, neurobiology, cognitive neuroscience, biological anthropology, evolutionary psychology, linguistics, economics, cognitive development, and ph ...more
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