Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Ethical Sense

“Although humans inherit a biological basis that permits them to feel anger, jealousy, selfishness and envy, to be rude, aggressive or violent, they inherit an even stronger biological bias for kindness, compassion, cooperation, love and nurture—especially towards those in need—because an ethical sense is a biological feature of our species.... I can assure you as a student of children for 40 years, developmental psychology affirms the validity of that claim."
Jerome Kagan

Jerome Kagan has been a highly respected researcher and writer in psychology for decades.  Now an Emeritus Professor at Harvard, he has become a critic of many of psychology's assumptions and practices today.

So this claim--as boldly stated as a clarion call--is contrary to much if not most of the prevailing conventional wisdom on this basic question of human nature.  It's not even often that today's experts even admit that there is any inborn impetus to "kindness, compassion"etc. but that any such expressions are elaborate strategies by genes to insure their survival over the genes of others.

The best that many can say is that there are good qualities and bad qualities inborn, and it is up to individuals and societies to support making choices for the good, even if they are not obvious winners in the struggle for survival.

Which makes Kagan's assertion that the biological bias for the good is stronger a bold one.  Yet his standing as a scientist provides credibility, and so his view demands to be taken seriously.

It at least helps counter the idea that everybody who knows anything knows that kindness and cooperation are unnatural, and people who are committed to them are deluded.  Which suggests the work of building a better future is organic, not foolish, and once again, not hopeless.

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