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Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them Hardcover – October 31, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-1594202605 ISBN-10: 1594202605

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (October 31, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202605
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202605
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The human brain processes morality automatically, influenced by evolution, culture, and experience but with a capacity for deliberate reasoning that allows for nuance, much needed in our increasingly complex world. Greene, a philosopher and scientist, draws on research in psychology and neuroscience to explore the roots of morality, particularly the tragedy of commonsense morality, when people of different races, religions, ethnic groups, and nationalities share the same sense of morality but apply it from different perspectives in whose differences lie the roots of conflict. Us-versus-them conflicts date back to tribal life. Greene analyzes the structure of modern moral conflicts on a wide spectrum of issues, from global warming to Obamacare to economic policy, and also the structure of our “moral brains.” Conflicts stem from a lack of moral philosophy, a problem pondered by philosophers since the Enlightenment. Greene ends with a vision of universal moral philosophy, a “metamorality” that crosses, racial, religious, ethnic, and national boundaries. Greene’s strategies for examining moral reasoning are as applicable to day-to-day decisions as they are to public policy. This is a highly accessible look at the complexities of morality. --Vanessa Bush


Robert Wright, The Atlantic:
“[Greene’s] concern is emphatic, his diagnosis precise, and his plan of action very, very ambitious. The salvation of humankind is possible, but it’s going to take concerted effort… [a] rich, sprawling book."

The Boston Globe:
"Surprising and remarkable… Toggling between big ideas, technical details, and his personal intellectual journey, Greene writes a thesis suitable to both airplane reading and PhD seminarsMoral Tribes offers a psychology far beyond the realm of self-help, instead probing the intricacy and complexity of morality in an attempt to help, and perhaps unite, entire communities."

Robert M. Sapolsky, The Wall Street Journal:

Christian Perring, Metapsychology:
“More interesting than its defense of Utilitarianism is the fact that Moral Tribes is one of the first attempts to bring experimental philosophy to a wider audience. Making technical philosophy accessible to a wider group is something that academic philosophers have not done enough. Greene provides a fascinating glimpse of what it might be to do scientifically informed moral philosophy.”

Sasha Pfeiffer and Anthony Brooks, WBUR:
“Joshua Green has a fascinating new book about how we make moral decisions. With a deep knowledge of philosophy and using brain scan science, the Harvard psychologist probes some big questions. Questions like why is it we’re capable of putting the welfare of our communities above our own personal welfare?  In other words we’re pretty good at making tribal life work, but then why do groups of people: sports fans, political partisans, religious believers, Americans, have so much trouble getting along with other groups? The question is hugely important in this modern world when conflicts among political parties, religious faiths and nations have dramatic consequences. It’s at the core of Joshua Greene’s new book.”

Thomas Nagel, New Republic:
“Joshua Greene, who teaches psychology at Harvard, is a leading contributor to the recently salient field of empirical moral psychology. This very readable book presents his comprehensive view of the subject, and what we should make of it. Greene offers much more experimental detail and some ingenious psychological proposals about why our gut reactions have the particular subtle contours that they do.”

Publishers Weekly:
“With a humorous, relaxed tone, Greene stacks piles of evidence from well-researched studies onto his theory of modern-day morality. Having spent most of his academic career on the study of morality, Greene foresees the questions his readers have and systematically addresses every doubt and concern. As he mixes 20th-century philosophical moral treatises with neuroscience and psychological studies—many of which were undertaken by his colleagues in the field of moral psychology—Greene’s role as educator shines through; his writing is clear and his examples simple yet intriguing.”

Vanessa Bush, Booklist:
“Greene’s strategies for examining moral reasoning are as applicable to day-to-day decisions as they are to public policy. This is a highly accessible look at the complexities of morality.”

Kirkus Reviews:
"A provocative, if Utopian, call for a new 'common currency of observable evidence…not to gain advantage over others, but simply because it’s good.'”

Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology, Harvard University; author of the international bestseller Stumbling on Happiness:
“Joshua Greene is the rarest of birds—a brilliant scientist and equally brilliant philosopher who simultaneously takes on the deepest problems of both disciplines. More than a decade in the making, Moral Tribes is a masterpiece—a landmark work brimming with originality and insight that also happens to be wickedly fun to read. The only disappointing thing about this book is that it ends.”

Robert Sapolsky, John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences, Stanford University:
“A decade ago, the wunderkind Joshua Greene helped start the field of moral neuroscience, producing dazzling research findings. In this equally dazzling book, Greene shows that he is also one of the field’s premier synthesists. Considerable progress has been made in solving the classic problem of how to get individuals within a group to start cooperating. Greene takes on an even bigger problem—how to foster cooperation between groups, groups with deeply felt morals and values, but with different morals and values. There are few more important issues to solve in our increasingly pluralistic world, and this beautifully written book is a step in that direction.”

Peter Singer, professor of bioethics, Princeton University:
“Over the past decade, Greene’s groundbreaking research has helped us understand how people judge right and wrong. Now, in this brilliant and enlightening book, he draws on his own research and that of many others to give a more complete picture of our differences over moral issues. But the significance of this book goes far beyond that. Greene suggests a common moral currency that can serve as a basis for cooperation between people who are otherwise deeply divided on matters of morality. If our planet is to have a peaceful and prosperous future such a common moral currency is urgently needed. This book should be widely read and discussed.”

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature:
“After two and a half millennia, it’s rare to come across a genuinely new idea on the nature of morality, but in this book Joshua Greene advances not one but several. Greene combines neuroscience with philosophy not as a dilettante but as an expert in both fields, and his synthesis is interdisciplinary in the best sense of using all available conceptual tools to understand a deep phenomenon. Moral Tribes is a landmark in our understanding of morality and the moral sense.”

More About the Author

Joshua D. Greene is the John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences and the director of the Moral Cognition Laboratory in the Department of Psychology, Harvard University. He studies the psychology and neuroscience of morality, focusing on the interplay between emotion and reasoning in moral decision-making. His broader interests cluster around the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience.

Customer Reviews

Greene doesn't like conservatives or, for that matter white people.
James F. Brown
The author Joshua Greene does a remarkable job of arguing his case and the book is thoroughly enjoyable.
Book Fanatic
A universal morality, deep pragmatism, is only pragmatic if you have the brains to make it work.
Graham H. Seibert

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 11, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Neuroscieintist/philosopher Joshua Greene has a big thesis in this book that requires some quite involved steps. His concern is to argue for a "metamorality" of the kind that should help groups with differing moralities resolve differences. Greene starts out envisioning two prototypical "tribes. One has a morality of self-reliance and "just desserts," where people are responsible for their lot in life and get rewarded in proportion to their efforts. The other has a more altruistic view of the world, where things are shared and shared alike, and everyone feels responsibility for everyone. The question: how do we decide which of these groups - or more likely, which elements of each group's worldview - should win the day in cases of moral conflict? (More specifically: when we face moral dilemmas where we could respond via self-interest and "just desserts" or with altruism and egalitarian "desserts", how should we determine which to go with?)

Greene's answer is basically a form of utilitarianism that he calls "deep pragmatism." And to see why requires some explanation, which could be really dull but isn't, owing to Greene's gifts as a good and clear writer. He argues that humans have what is called a "dual process morality" that is divided between intuitive gut instincts (dominated by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex) and a more calculating thought process (owing more to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). When it comes to questions of "me versus us," the intuition side of things is pretty reliable, making us feel guilty for taking more than "our fair share," breaking rules that we expect everyone else to follow, etc.
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36 of 44 people found the following review helpful By William MacAskill on November 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book (with no intention that I'd review it!). I enjoyed every minute of reading it.

It's on an extremely important topic - the nature of morality. And the contribution Prof Greene makes is an extremely novel one: based on his own psychological studies, he argues that our moral judgments are often a battleground between an intuitive, emotional reaction, and a slower, more deliberative and logical reasoning process. Suppose you can kill one person in order to transplant their organs to save five others. "Don't do it!" says your gut; "But doing so will save more lives!" says the slower, more deliberative part of your brain.

The kicker comes in the final part of the book where he argues that we should normally trust that slow deliberative process over our intuitive judgments. His work in psychology therefore impacts moral philosophy, providing a grand argument for utilitarianism - the idea that one should always do whatever will maximise the sum total of wellbeing in the world.

Greene is a stellar psychologist who's precipitated a massive debate in moral philosophy. And he's managed to present his research in a clear, friendly and engaging way. If you want to learn about cutting-edge research on the nature of morality - and have your own moral views challenged! - then read this book.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Book Fanatic TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is just an excellent book. I consider it quite original and somewhat radical. The author Joshua Greene does a remarkable job of arguing his case and the book is thoroughly enjoyable.

Greene makes the observation that our intuitive moral emotions evolved to ensure cooperation within your own tribe and treated everyone else as "them". Obviously this doesn't work very well in the modern global world. So the point of this book is to defend a meta morality to resolve all the modern moral conflicts.

Greene uses modern issues like abortion as examples and this is just part of his excellent text. This book has the Amazon "Look Inside" feature and I recommend you utilize that to preview the text.

This is a thinking person's book and I highly recommend it. Very well done.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Pamela Richmond on January 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My grandson tells me author Joshua Greene's thinking has been studied in all of his psychology classes, and I found Moral Tribes the most important book I've read in a long time -- tedious reading because this is such a complex subject. Nonetheless, I'd recommend it as required reading for every student around the globe. It points to a path for mastering perhaps the most critical challenge of our time -- living successfully in our complex and diverse world.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Frank S. Robinson on May 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover
You are a bystander when a runaway trolley careens by, about to hit and kill five people. You can grab a switch and reroute the trolley to a different track where it will kill only one person. Should you? Most people say yes. But suppose you’re on a bridge, and can only save the five lives by pushing a fat man off the bridge into the trolley’s path? Should you? Most say no. Or suppose you’re a doctor with five patients about to die from different organ failures. Should you save them by grabbing someone off the street and harvesting his organs? Aren’t all three cases morally identical?

Our intuitive moral brain treats them differently. Pushing the man off the bridge, or harvesting organs, seem to contravene an ethical taboo against personal violence that the impersonal act of flipping the switch does not. (This refutes the common idea that humans have a propensity for violence. Ironically, those who believe it must do so because their own built-in anti-violence brain module is set on high.)

Such issues are central to Joshua Greene’s book, Moral Tribes. Our ethical intuitions were acquired through evolution, adaptations that enabled our ancestors to cope and survive in close-knit tribal societies. And our moral reflexes do work pretty well in such environments, where the dilemmas tend to be of the “me” versus “us” sort. But, because our ancestral tribes were effectively competing against other tribes, “us” versus “them” issues are a different matter. That’s the problem really concerning Greene.

He argues for a version of utilitarianism (he calls it deep pragmatism). Now, utilitarianism has a bad rep in philosophy circles. Its precept of “the greatest good for the greatest number” is seen as excluding other valid moral considerations; e.g.
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