Marc Hauser - Moral Minds

April 4, 2008

Marc Hauser is an evolutionary psychologist and biologist. He is Harvard College Professor and Professor of Psychology, and Director of the Primate Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at Harvard University. He is the author of a number of books, including The Evolution of Communication, Wild Minds: What Animals Think, and Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong.

In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Marc Hauser expounds his theory that morality has biological origins while challenging the common view that morality comes from God. He compares the human capacity for morality with Noam Chomsky's notion of a universal grammar, arguing that there is a "morality module" in the brain. He explains how his theory accounts for differences in morality across cultures, and discusses how morality could have evolved and what genetic benefit it might have afforded. He also explores the implications of his theory for the legal system, and for cultural institutions like religion and the family.

Books Mentioned in This Episode:

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Moral Sense Test
Morality Without Religion (Free Inquiry)

Related Episodes

Steven Pinker - Evolutionary Psychology and Human Nature
February 23, 2007

Comments from the CFI Forums

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Another excellent podcast and an intriguing guest.  Hauser hits the nail on the head about the inherence of the human moral drive.  It is inspiring to consider the potential in deciphering and articulating the shared “grammar” of our human “morality modules.”  And to consider the implications of such articulations to the matter of practical ethics.

Posted on Apr 04, 2008 at 8:21pm by erasmusinfinity Comment #1

In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Marc Hauser expounds his theory that morality has biological origins while challenging the common view that morality comes from God.

This was an excellent interview with a lot of discussion.  Some really good points.

I had downloaded the podcast before going running and afterward when I was at Barnes & Noble a book on a table caught my eye:
[The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout].  Leafing through it was an interesting juxtaposition with this podcast. Martha Stout asserts that 4% of the population has a different moral sense

[Review of Martha Stout’s book]

Marc Hauser is a scientist and on much stronger technical ground. He spends some time in this interview explaining how there is a general moral sense that people think actively doing something which causes harm is worse than being indirect—- that euthanasia is worse than “unplugging” a terminally ill patient (plus other examples).

Thanks to D.J. and everyone involved—when an interview goes well we tend to take it for granted. I would mention that in addition to content the technical quality is consistently good….

Posted on Apr 05, 2008 at 9:01am by Jackson Comment #2

Yes, excellent podcast that outlined a very plausible mechanism for soft constraints on human morality.

Posted on Apr 07, 2008 at 10:25am by dougsmith Comment #3

I also enjoyed the podcast. I am not so sure about Hauser’s Moral Minds, though. I found the book unnecessarily long and wordy.

Posted on Apr 08, 2008 at 5:45am by George Comment #4

Fascinating topic. I was impressed with his distinction between the brain’s innate faculty for the structural parts of morality, while conceding that much (all?) of the content of morality appears to be culturally conditioned. Which, in some ways, leaves us right back where we started. Sort of like saying that all human brains have a “blank moral canvas” as standard equipment, but society brings the oil paints and covers the blank canvas with a culture-specific moral “painting.”

Posted on Apr 08, 2008 at 12:12pm by steveg144 Comment #5