Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes?

An article by the New York Times based on a series of recent articles and a book, “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at the University of Virginia, who has been constructing a broad evolutionary view of morality that traces its connections both to religion and to politics.  Here’s an extract:

Of the moral systems that protect individuals, one is concerned with preventing harm to the person and the other with reciprocity and fairness. Less familiar are the three systems that promote behaviors developed for strengthening the group. These are loyalty to the in-group, respect for authority and hierarchy, and a sense of purity or sanctity.

The five moral systems, in Dr. Haidt’s view, are innate psychological mechanisms that predispose children to absorb certain virtues. Because these virtues are learned, morality may vary widely from culture to culture, while maintaining its central role of restraining selfishness. In Western societies, the focus is on protecting individuals by insisting that everyone be treated fairly. Creativity is high, but society is less orderly. In many other societies, selfishness is suppressed “through practices, rituals and stories that help a person play a cooperative role in a larger social entity,” Dr. Haidt said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/18/science/18mora.html?th&emc=th

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