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The Moral Sense

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  140 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
The classic and controversial argument that morality is based in human nature.
Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 6th 1997 by Free Press (first published August 9th 1993)
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Aug 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
I normally wouldn't give a book that is this slow such a high rating. Some of the chapters are longer than they need to be. Despite that, Wilson's argument is so interesting that it is worth struggling through some rather difficult writing to try to understand it.

Wilson is making a very conservative argument that argues that everyone is born with an innate moral sense, but that the family is key to socializing children to express that basic human nature. He uses extensive reference materials to
Jeff Delisle
Apr 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I first heard of Dr. Wilson after recently reading glowing obituaries in many respected publications. His teaching and publications have been influential to many better known authorities. As I am a psychiatrist working with emotionally disturbed adolescents, I felt I should know his work better. I have not been disappointed. Dr. Wilson's thesis is that development of a moral sense is an inherently human characteristic. This stance contradicts many popular views, including that of moral relativis ...more
Most intriguing argument made by this author is how all the social institutions were created to essentially control the destructive nature of male aggression.
Robert Wechsler
Jun 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
This is supposed to be Wilson's masterpiece, and it does seem well written. But it starts out by opposing science and reason on the one hand, and morality and religion on the other. This is, as far as I’m concerned, a false dichotomy. Wilson felt that using the word “values” would let people talk about morality, but "values" is a word that means very little. Wilson also felt that we have an intuitive idea of what we’re obligated to do, which is our “moral sense.” But this ignores the many situat ...more
Nicole Smith
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
I can't remember what I was reading that suggested I read this book, but I'm glad I did. It took me a while to get through it, but I think the examples and points made are very clear and in some ways scary. Reading this also made me want to get back to "The De-moralization of Society" by Gertrude Himmelfarb. I know that society at large does not agree upon what is moral and what behaviors should be encouraged or banned, but I honestly think that one of our big problems is that we are not willing ...more
Oct 30, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
An old-fashioned essay, which is to say that it's a little dull and diffuse. Still, Wilson draws from a wide variety of sources and combines them into a lengthy examination of contemporary morality. As you might expect, he doesn't think much of Darwinian or Smithian reductionism, but he's happy to use economic or biological explanations for human behaviour when it suits him. I especially liked his brief dissection of gangsta culture and thought that it adds to previous economic explanations of t ...more
Aug 06, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-gral
Very interesting to skim and also to slow down on some sections (according to what interests you as a reader). It's a bit dense at points but full of good sense, extensive examples, and thought-provoking analyses.
Apr 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
It is a great book to ponder to what extent morality is socially constructed or an inherent quality in human beings. Wilson challenges much of the moral relativism that continues to permeate social constructivist thought.
Apr 25, 2012 marked it as on-the-back-burner
Just couldn't get my mind to focus on the droll information.
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: phd-program
Meh. Required text fo my course.
Feng Ouyang
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
The theme of the book is that there are universal moral senses among human. Therefore, the notion that everything depends on the culture (culture relativism) is wrong.
The book argues this point by looking at some basic components of moral, such as sympathy, fairness, self-control and duty. The author argued from several points that these virtues are universal and “natural” to all human beings.
• People are born with them (infants display such qualities)
• People feel compelled to justify actions
Scott Pierce
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wilson, controversially, delves into whether morality is absolute, or only relative depending on the time and place. He sides with the former, explaining how qualities like sympathy, fairness, self-control, duty, modesty, courage and integrity are constants.

Norm Konzelman
Feb 17, 2015 rated it liked it
I was surprised to find some attempt by the author to present his findings with honesty, and in many places information given caught my full attention. At one point in the book, he credits northern European/western civilization as being superior to any in history, and not a little but far superior coming right to the door Jesus Christ, but then abruptly walking away still lost and hell-bound.
Here though I must say that the whole premise of his 'thesis' is based on falsehood. The greatest of cont
Wil Roese
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It seems strange to me that anyone would doubt the existence of a moral sense. Do these doubters not have a moral sense? If they do have a moral sense then how can they doubt the existence of something they themselves have? If you do not have a moral sense yourself then this book gives objective evidence from the fields of child psychology and anthropology that most humans do in fact have a moral sense.
Feb 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I like everything Sam Harris writes. This book, although a bit on the intellectual side, was a very interesting, thought provoking, and thought revision read. His vocabulary overwhelmed mine and I spent a lot of time looking up words. But I like that. If you want to get a very interesting perspective Morals and Morality - read this.
Dec 19, 2016 rated it did not like it
DNF - I got about 200 pages through this book and it was just so out of touch with the way the world is now. I had expected this to be more of a substantive self help book, but that never really came together. The first half was interesting, but it was just a collection of ideas. There was never any resonance to the concepts and as the book went on, it became more and more of a chore to read.
Jan 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Confirms J.H.Breasted's work on ancient Egypt. Guess what, morality does not come from Christianity. See Greek philophy, see ancient Egypt.
Michal Leah
Sep 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
I liked bureaucracy a lot better - this seemed to ephemeral a topic to tie down. But I read it as an audiobook so maybe I didn't give it enough attention
Jonathan Geurts
Feb 29, 2016 rated it liked it
The neuroscience of morality was fascinating, the history of science less so. I enjoyed it thoroughly until it wore on me and I stopped.
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Apr 07, 2007
Kent Werner
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Aug 02, 2008
Steve Hager
rated it it was amazing
Jan 01, 2014
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May 07, 2012
Jim Mcnulty
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Jan 19, 2014
Phạm Hà
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May 24, 2015
Andy Adkins
rated it it was amazing
Nov 07, 2011
rated it really liked it
Mar 18, 2015
rated it it was ok
Jan 21, 2014
Daniel Craley
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Aug 04, 2017
Matt English
rated it it was amazing
Sep 18, 2015
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James Q. Wilson was one of the leading contemporary criminologists in the United States. Wilson, who has taught at several major universities during his academic career, has also written on economics and politics during his lengthy career. During the 1960s and 1970s, Wilson voiced concerns about trying to address the social causes of crime. He argued instead that public policy is most effective wh ...more
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