Tag Archives: human nature

Edge: The New Science of Morality

Edge logoAn Edge Conference featuring Roy Baumeister, Paul Bloom, Joshua D. Greene, Jonathan Haidt, Sam Harris, Marc D. Hauser, Josua Knobe, Elizabeth Phelps and David Pizarro was held July 20-22, 2010. Edge has made a number of videos and texts available from this conference.

Read the introduction to the conference by John Brockman below:

Something radically new is in the air: new ways of understanding physical systems, new ways of thinking about thinking that call into question many of our basic assumptions. A realistic biology of the mind, advances in evolutionary biology, physics, information technology, genetics, neurobiology, psychology, engineering, the chemistry of materials: all are questions of critical importance with respect to what it means to be human. For the first time, we have the tools and the will to undertake the scientific study of human nature.

This began in the early seventies, when, as a graduate student at Harvard, evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers wrote five papers that set forth an agenda for a new field: the scientific study of human nature. In the past thirty-five years this work has spawned thousands of scientific experiments, new and important evidence, and exciting new ideas about who and what we are presented in books by scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Steven Pinker, and Edward O. Wilson among many others.

In 1975, Wilson, a colleague of Trivers at Harvard, predicted that ethics would someday be taken out of the hands of philosophers and incorporated into the “new synthesis” of evolutionary and biological thinking. He was right.

Scientists engaged in the scientific study of human nature are gaining sway over the scientists and others in disciplines that rely on studying social actions and human cultures independent from their biological foundation.

No where is this more apparent than in the field of moral psychology. Using babies, psychopaths, chimpanzees, fMRI scanners, web surveys, agent-based modeling, and ultimatum games, moral psychology has become a major convergence zone for research in the behavioral sciences.

So what do we have to say? Are we moving toward consensus on some points? What are the most pressing questions for the next five years? And what do we have to offer a world in which so many global and national crises are caused or exacerbated by moral failures and moral conflicts? It seems like everyone is studying morality these days, reaching findings that complement each other more often than they clash.

Click the names of the participants at the top to jump to their videos/writings. The main page (see first link above) also has bios of the participants as well as the proceedings (below) and who attended from the press at this conference.

Each of the nine participants led a 45-minute session on Day One that consisted of a 25-minute talk, followed by 20-minutes of discussion.

Day Two consisted of two 90-minute open discussions on “The New Science of Morality”. The first session, “Consensus/Outstanding Disagreements”, led by Jonathan Haidt, explored the the scientific aspects of where we are, how much consensus we have, and what empirical or theoretical questions are still outstanding in the science of morality. The second session, “Applications/Implications”, led by Marc D. Hauser, gave the participants an opportunity to think big about how the science of morality can be applied to make the world a better place, make governments work better, improve corporate governance, law, the Internet, etc. The goal for Day Two: to begin work on a consensus document on the state of moral psychology to be published on Edge in the near future.

We are pleased to make the entire 10-hours of talks and discussions available to the Edge community. Over the next month we will serialize the conference by rolling out one or two of 45-minute sessions as an Edge Edition. This will include HD video of the 25-minute talk (with complete text), the 20-minute discussion, and a downloadable audio MP3 of the talk. We will end the series with the last two ninety-minute discussions on “The New Science of Morality”.

Update 20100811: Cognition paper retracted as prominent psychologist Marc Hauser takes leave from Harvard
A chapter from Haidt’s book at The Situation of Morality (The Situationist)
Update 20101128: While trying to find Hauser’s talk again (for some aspects on bullying), I noticed his contribution has vanished down Orwell’s memory hole.