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Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong Paperback – September 4, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0060780722 ISBN-10: 006078072X Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006078072X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060780722
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #545,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“About one of the hottest new topics in intellectual life: the psychology and biology of morals. . . fascinating.” (Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works)

“An account of the nature of the human moral organ . . . a lucid, expert and challenging introduction.” (Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics, MIT)

“An intellectual feast that provokes thought and should stimulate critical reflection . . . a major contribution to an ongoing debate.” (Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University)

“The most complete attempt to bring together philosophy, anthropology, cognitive science and neuroscience... daring and wise.” (Antonio Damasio, Professor of Neuroscience, University of Southern California)

“The scientific exploration of morality has advanced at a breathtaking pace… [an] enjoyable book.” (Daniel Kahneman, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, Princeton University, and 2002 Nobel Laureate in Economics)

“For a wide audience...a superb overview of one of the hottest topics in the life sciences...a treat.” (Science)

“An audacious claim about moral thought...highly accessible to a general audience...a deeply significant intellectual contribution.” (Nature)

“Unlikely to disappoint.” (Nicholas Wade, New York Times)

“Pathbreaking... relevant to some of the most fundamental contemporary debates in philosophy and public life.” (New York Review of Books)

About the Author

Marc D. Hauser is the author of the highly acclaimed Wild Minds. He has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe, as well as on Today,The Early Show, PBS's Scientific American Frontiers, and NPR. Hauser is Professor of Psychology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Biological Anthropology at Harvard University, where he is director of the Cognitive Evolution Laboratory and co-director of the Mind, Brain and Behavior Program. He is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, a Guggenheim Award, a College de France Science medal, and a Harvard College Professorship chair for his excellence in teaching.

More About the Author

Marc Hauser is a scientist, educator, innovator, and humanist. With broad training in the biological and social sciences, as well as philosophy and linguistics, he has published over 200 scientific papers and six books, including most recently Moral Minds (2006, NY: Harper Collins). During his 18 years as a professor at Harvard University, he worked on topics in animal cognition, moral psychology, cognitive development, cognitive neuroscience, behavioral economics, linguistics, anthropology, and philosophy. In the last three years, he has worked with high at-risk youths, bringing the tools of the mind and brain sciences to help change their lives, including their capacity to learn and make meaningful decisions. This work continues today. He is married to Lilan Hauser and has two daughters, Alexandra and Sofia.

Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars
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This is a great book just know that there are very dry moments.
Because of this, it seems that he doesn't make any real case for anything because he meanders too much.
Kevin Currie-Knight
They are overlapping in part, but there are problems with the integration.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
After about 300 pages, I decided to look at some amazon reviews for this book. I was wondering if others had as tough a time as I did following Hauser. I was curious to find out if others were as confused as I was about how this book could be called a work of science rather than an attempt of a scientist to delve into philosophy.

I am somewhat relieved that others came away with the same impression. Before I got this book, I was excited indeed to read it. I have read much both in moral philosophy and explorations of the intersection between it and biology (books by Shermer, Midgley, Ridley, Richard Posner, and works of evolutionary psychology.)

I don't want to risk exagerating, but this one is probably the worst of them. Hauser states his intent to show that morality is instinctual and innate in the sense that linguists have shown a "language instinct." That is, Hauser recognizes moral differences between cultures, but wants to show that morality has basic rules that are innately present, and that variation - like in language - is an acquired thing.

And on top of this, he wants to tie his findings to the conception of morality of John Rawls' "Veil of Ignorance" theory, rather than David Hume and Adam Smith's more emotive theory of morality. Where he does this exactly, I am not sure. I tried to decipher his argument, but the section of the book where he argues for a Rawlsian, rather than a Humean, conception of moral development seems actually to do the opposite. He succeeds only in showing that human moral judgments are first made on gut intuition and only after use reason either to justify or refine them. Humean indeed!

The other area where I was unclear was on how, exactly, Hauser showed that our moral sense is in any way objective across cultures.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Harkius VINE VOICE on August 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
First, go read Kevin Currie's review, because it is fairly insightful. Much of what I would say is written there, and there is nothing there that I disagree with enough to contradict it, except that there is a great deal of science, you just have to filter it out of the remainder of the book. To be fair, much of it is after page 307, where he apparently stopped.

My generalized comment about this book is that reading it is like looking through a microscope with the eyepieces too far apart: There is some region in the center that is viewable through both eyes, but the remainder of the field of view is only accessible by part of what should be seeing it. The two fields are science and the humanities. They are overlapping in part, but there are problems with the integration. For example, as in all carefully worded scientific statements, the author is careful to word things as "evidence of this was not found in the study", which means that it is not disproven, it is merely inconclusive. The humanities references are largely inappropriate, making little or no sense in the context that they are in. They seem to scream, "I'm not just a scientist! I am a renaissance man, and my interests are diverse!" The problem is that they are irrelevant at best, distracting at worst, and never tied into the flow of ideas, except perhaps as a joke would be in Family Guy.

More particular comments, as I am wont to do with science books, are as follows:

First, his mention, on pg. 10, of the evolution of distanced altruism being formerly impossible, is quite clever. I haven't ever seen this suggestion before, even if it is not unique, and it is quite useful.

Second, on pg. 136, amongst other places, Dr. Hauser refers to the unchanging status of human moral and psychological systems.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By PST on February 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
The book tries to prove - or at least make plausible - that man has a moral grammar, similar to the hardwired language grammar postulated by Noman Chomsky.
While the book contains many, many fascinating accounts of highly interesting tests done by biologists and psychologists, I often missed the link between these results, and the claim the author wants to prove.
Of course, he succeeds in refuting many erroneous claims, such as the one that religion has anything to do with morality, but refuting one claim does not necessarily constitute a proof of another.

So, while reading the results of the many test is very interesting in itself, I feel the book falls short on proving the claim it makes.

This is a shame, as intuitively I am very sure, he is on the right track.
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19 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Cebes on November 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
For the definitive review of this book, readers should consult Richard Rorty's piece in the New York Times (available online). Rorty points out the absurd mismatch between on the one hand the triumphalist rhetoric of the book (Hauser declares we are entering a new era when science will finally reveal the Truth about "The Nature of Right and Wrong" (the book's subtitle)), and on the other hand the almost total lack of actual concrete results. In the end, despite its excessive length this book tells us little about morality. It mostly deals with the debate between the role of emotion and reason in ethics, but giving us rather caricatured views of each side (especially of Kant's rationalist ethics, which Hauser badly misunderstands). Hauser's actual concrete claims about morality are mostly trivial or vacuous(my favorite is Hauser's "scientific" conclusion that people are partly selfish, partly altruistic). This book is largely an exercise in armchair speculation about how morality evolved to suit a hunter-gatherer lifestyle on the "savanna" many thousands of years ago (one might call this the Flintstones Theory of human nature). There is however no evidence for this claim, and lots of evidence against it (for example, most people recognize some sort of moral duties to animals, yet this would make no sense from an adaptive perspective). In fact, Hauser does not reveal the depths of the controversy even among biologists as to whether morality is even an adaptation at all, let alone an adaptation to the hunter-gatherer state. In the end, the only practical recommendation he offers us about morality is a deeply conservative one: you can't change human nature, our "moral instincts" are "immune" to the attempted changes mandated by religion, laws, and social rules.Read more ›
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