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Journal of Moral Education
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Moral minds: how nature designed our
universal sense of right and wrong
Helen Haste
a

b
a
University of Bath , UK
b
Harvard Graduate School of Education , 613 Larsen Hall, Appian
Way, Cambridge, MA, 02138, USA
Published online: 11 Aug 2009.
To cite this article: Helen Haste (2009) Moral minds: how nature designed our universal sense of
right and wrong, Journal of Moral Education, 38:3, 380-382, DOI: 10.1080/03057240903101689
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03057240903101689
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380 Book reviews
Why should moral educators concern themselves with emotion and emotion regu-
lation? Emotion is foundational to cognition, when it is disordered so is cognition.
Aristotle emphasised the need to cultivate one’s moral sensibilities (emotions and
cognitions), shaping one’s dispositions for morality. However, if a person has been
formed physiologically from experience with a reactive stress response, it will be
much harder for her to cultivate other-focused moral dispositions. The personal
distress that arises during interpersonal conflict will more likely dominate her atten-
tion and self-regulatory resources. It may be the case that the moral educator will
need to facilitate emotion regulation as part of the educative process (e.g. meditation,
deep breathing).
References
Chrousos, G. P. & Gold, P. W. (1992) The concepts of stress and stress system disorders: over-
view of physical and behavioral homeostasis, Journal of the American Medical Association,
267, 1244–1252.
Narvaez, D. (2008) Triune ethics: the neurobiological roots of our multiple moralities, New Ideas
in Psychology, 26, 95–119.
Narvaez, D. & Vaydich, J. (2008) Moral development and behaviour under the spotlight of the
neurobiological sciences, Journal of Moral Education, 37(3), 289–313.
Jenny L. Vaydich, Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame, Notre
Dame, IN 46556, USA. Email: jvaydich@nd.edu and Darcia Narvaez, Depart-
ment of Psychology, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame IN 46556, USA. Email:
dnarvaez@nd.edu
© 2009, Jenny L. Vaydich
DOI: 10.1080/03057240903101671
Moral minds: how nature designed our universal sense of right and wrong
Marc D. Hauser, 2006
New York, Harper Collins
$27.95 (hbk), 489 pp.
ISBN 10 0 06 078070 3
‘Rich’ is an adjective often applied by reviewers to books that are full of exciting ideas
in progress, but could do with a strong editorial hand. This book is rich. Hauser
attempts to generate the argument for a ‘universal moral grammar’ based on evolu-
tionary arguments for the origin of morality. He brings in primate studies (in which
he is a recognised expert), current arguments on moral emotion, attacks on the
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Book reviews 381
Kantian tradition that forefronts moral reasoning, material from neuroscience, the
development of theory of mind and anthropological data. In nearly 500 pages, it is
not surprising that he has some real nuggets of insight, some over-generalisations and
speculations and some lapses of scholarship.
This is an interesting time in moral psychology. It has been largely dominated for
50 years by a model of moral functioning that derives from a Kantian perspective and
which concentrates almost wholly on reasoning. This had its own ‘universal moral
grammar’; the ‘universal’ principles that underpinned reasoning. Haidt’s 2001 paper
challenged the focus on reason and reprised the debates between Kant and Hume;
moral emotion is immediate and so primary; reasoning depends on reflection. This
is a worthy issue for good research and the field is opening up. However, it is
muddied by another contemporary enthusiasm, the search for evolutionary explana-
tions. For reasons that continue to baffle me, it appears that pursuing evolutionary
explanations is seen as more ‘scientific’ than careful research on actual current
human responses and behaviours.
The argument, in Hauser’s book and elsewhere, seems to be that because emotion
is such an immediate response, it must be ‘hardwired’ and, ergo, it must be rooted in
evolutionary survival mechanisms. For some this means sexual selection, for others,
including Hauser, the explanation lies in social exchange and group cooperation.
Therefore, moral emotions arise from ‘territoriality’ and ‘dominance’ imperatives and
from breaking the norms that govern these. This seems a speculative leap. Finding
evolutionary explanations is an exciting and valid activity, but it is too often an extrap-
olation either from contemporary primates or contemporary hunter-gatherer societ-
ies, both of which are products of the same long evolutionary process as ourselves;
they are not our ‘ancestors’.
A widely used research tool in the field of moral emotion, much cited by Hauser,
is the ‘trolley problem’. This was originally invented by the philosopher Philippa Foot
(1967) as a thought experiment to explore ‘impossible’ dilemmas. It has been
hijacked as a quick way to measure ‘emotion’, because people respond very swiftly
with the ‘right’ answer—to allow the fewest people to die. However, first, this seems
to be as much a moral intuition as an emotion. Second, it is presented as being evolu-
tionary evidence about humans not liking to kill each other. Talking about killing is a
common moral discussion point but killing other humans is rare, except in war, when
humans can become quite enthusiastic about killing out-group members. Also many
trolley problem researchers extrapolate from patterns of yes-no answers rather than
exploring either the reasoning, or even reflections on the emotions, behind the
responses.
I consider a major scholarly lapse to be Hauser’s treatment of the Piaget-Kohlberg
tradition. Many people working within this tradition warmly welcome the inclusion
of emotion into moral theory. However, Hauser begins by claiming that his account
‘shifts the burden of evidence from a philosophy of morality to a science of morality’
(p. 2). This seems a most curious put-down of 70 years of rigorous research on the
development of moral reasoning. The clue lies in the bibliography; despite 16 index
references to Kohlberg and nine to Piaget, Hauser cites just one publication of
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382 Book reviews
Kohlberg’s and two of Piaget’s. He could also have walked 400 metres from his office
and spent an afternoon in the Kohlberg archive, acquainting himself with the actual
original research. As it is, he presents rather a caricature of both the theory and the
data. He also claims that neither Kohlberg nor Piaget explained how stage develop-
ment took place. In trying to unpack this odd statement, given the large amount of
data on stage transition, I concluded that Hauser has little understanding of cognitive
developmental theory and is trying to apply a social learning theory, or possibly
‘maturation’.
There are many fine insights and thoughts-in-progress in this otherwise undisci-
plined book; some of Hauser’s colleagues who are experts in human psychology are
developing them with rigour and sophistication. I wish them well; the field needs
excellent research that integrates emotion and reason in our understanding of moral-
ity and the contemporary human mind.
References
Foot, P. (1967) The problem of abortion and the doctrine of the double effect, Oxford Reviews,
5(1), 5–15.
Haidt, J. (2001) The emotional dog and its rational tail: a social intuitionist approach to moral
judgement, Psychological Review, 108, 814–834.
Helen Haste, University of Bath, UK; Harvard Graduate School of Education, 613
Larsen Hall, Appian Way, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. Email: helhaste @aol.com
© 2009, Helen Haste
DOI: 10.1080/03057240903101689
Resentment’s virtue: Jean Améry and the refusal to forgive, with a foreword
by Jeffrie Murphy
Thomas Brudholm, 2008
Philadelphia, Temple University Press
$51.50 (hbk), 235 pp.
ISBN 1592135668
In the foreword of Thomas Brudholm’s study on the ‘moral power to resist’ (Jean
Améry), Jeffrie Murphy writes that we live in a time in which the virtue of forgiveness
is at risk of becoming ‘distorted and cheapened by various movements that advocate
it in a hasty and uncritical way’ (p. ix). An analysis of the legitimation and morality
of ‘unforgiveness’ (p. xii), Brudholm’s book represents a counterpoint to such
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