Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil

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The distinguished Yale psychologist explores the origins of human morality and what the study of babies and toddlers can tell us about good and evil.

Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, Paul Bloom

Psychologists have long believed that we begin life as moral blank slates. Most of us take it for granted that babies are born selfish and that it is the role of society - and especially parents - to transform them from little sociopaths into civilised beings. Now, in Just Babies, Paul Bloom argue that humans are in fact hardwired with a sense of morality. Drawing on groundbreaking research, Bloom demonstrates that even before they can speak or walk, babies judge the goodness and badness of others' actions; act to soothe those in distress; and feel empathy, guilt, pride and righteous anger.

Still, this innate morality is limited. We are naturally hostile to strangers, prone to parochialism and bigotry. Drawing on insights from psychology, behavioural economics, evolutionary biology and philosophy, Bloom explores how we have come to surpass these limitations. Along the way, he examines the morality of chimpanzees, criminals, religious extremists and Ivy League professors, and explores out often puzzling moral feelings about sex, politics, religion and race.

Bloom rejects the fashionable view that adult morality is driven mainly by gut feelings and unconscious biases. Just as reason has driven our great scientific discoveries, it is reason and deliberation that makes possible our moral discoveries. Ultimately, it is through our imagination, our compassion and our uniquely human capacity for rational thought that we can transcend the primitive sense of morality we were born with, becoming more than just babies.

Vivid, witty, and intellectually probing, Just Babies offers a radical new perspective on our moral lives.

Available Formats

  • eBook
    ISBN: 9781448192458
    Published: 14/11/2013
    Imprint: Vintage Digital
    Extent: 288 pages
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"Take a tour through the latest and most amazing research in child psychology and come back with a better understanding of the strange things adults do. Bloom shows us how a first rate scientist integrates conflicting findings, broad scholarship and deep humanity to draw a nuanced and often surprising portrait of human nature, with all its beauty, horror and hope." - Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis

"Just Babies is exactly the combination of penetrating insight, cutting-edge science, and elegant prose that readers have come to expect from one of psychology's best writers and sharpest minds." - Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

"In Just Babies, Paul Bloom provides a wonderful, in-depth look at how our morality develops from infancy onward, making the strong case for the subtle interplay of genes and environment in the way we turn out - a must for social science enthusiasts and parents." - Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational

"The Origins of Good and Evil is an ambitious subtitle, but this book earns it. Paul Bloom combines graceful, witty writing with intellectual rigour to produce a compelling account of how and why people are so wonderful and so horrible." - Robert Wright, author of The Moral Animal

"Bloom, ever brisk and authoritative, generally focuses on how things are rather than on how developmental psychology might inform philosophy" - John Whitfield, Nature

"Tackles the moral claims of philosophy and religion, arguing that the natural selection of evolution instilled in us the foundations for moral thought and action" - Paul Hopkins, Belfast Telegraph

"[Bloom's] book is the latest to probe the scientific underpinnings of morality. But Bloom is a serious player, having conducted some of the field's notable experiments… In a lively, accessible style, Bloom also draws on research into adults from many societies" - Shaoni Bhattarcharya, New Scientist

"Enthralling" - Sarah Johnson, Standpoint

"[A] witty, elegant account... It may not be fashionable, but Bloom's sober stance at the frontier of the science of morality is much to be admired" - Charles Fernyhough, Literary Review

"Bloom has a talent for distilling scholarly work (his and others’) into accessible, appealing prose" - Sara Sklaroff, Washington Post