The Tragedy of Common-Sense Morality

Why do people fight so much?
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Joshua Greene, the Harvard psychologist whose book Moral Tribes comes out next week, just experienced every author’s dream: he got to talk back to someone who had reviewed his book. In this case, that someone was me. My review essay discussing Greene’s book (and also Paul Bloom’s forthcoming book Just Babies) appears in the November issue of The Atlantic.

You can watch the whole conversation here on bloggingheads.tv, but below are two key excerpts.

First, Greene pithily states one of his book’s central arguments, the upshot of which is that unreflectively following our moral instincts gets us into particular trouble in international, inter-ethnic, and inter-religious disputes:

Now for the core of our disagreement. Green argues that much of the conflict between “tribes”—religions, nations, ethnicities, etc.—would disappear if all of them abandoned traditional value systems and subscribed to utilitarianism, the idea that what’s moral is what maximizes human happiness:

Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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