Right and Wrong

This is a long, but very interesting article from the New York Times about the emerging science that suggests humans have an innate sense of right and wrong from birth.

This contention is actually quite controversial; for many, many years it has been suggested that babies are born amoral and it is the job of parents to teach them right from wrong.  But this assumption is increasingly coming into question, and a number of scientists have started doing studies and witnessing exchanges like the following:.

  • “Not long ago, a team of researchers watched a 1-year-old boy take justice into his own hands. The boy had just seen a puppet show in which one puppet played with a ball while interacting with two other puppets. The center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the right, who would pass it back. And the center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the left . . . who would run away with it. Then the two puppets on the ends were brought down from the stage and set before the toddler. Each was placed next to a pile of treats. At this point, the toddler was asked to take a treat away from one puppet. Like most children in this situation, the boy took it from the pile of the “naughty” one. But this punishment wasn’t enough — he then leaned over and smacked the puppet in the head.”

Obviously much of moral behavior is socially determined, but to what extent are we born with innate knowledge of good versus bad actions?