Thursday, November 22, 2007

Worth A Look

Ronald Bailey reports on The Theory of Moral Neuroscience in Reason Online (free minds, free markets) and reports on recent research showing that ‘Modern brain science is confirming an 18th century philosopher's moral theories’ (2 November).

He quotes from Theory of Moral Snetiments:

"As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation," observed British philosopher and economist Adam Smith in the first chapter of his magisterial The Theory of Moral Sentiment 1759):

"Whatever is the passion which arises from any object in the person principally concerned, an analogous emotion springs up, at the thought of his situation, in the breast of every attentive spectator." Smith's argument is that our ability to empathize with others is at the root of our morality.’ [TMS I.1: p 9 and TMS I.i.4: p 10]

‘[These] findings again buttress Adam Smith's insight from more than two centuries ago that empathy works to prompt us to help our neighbors but attenuates with social distance. "That we should be but little interested, therefore, in the fortune of those whom we can neither serve nor hurt, and who are in every respect so very remote from us, seems wisely ordered by Nature," writes Smith. Wisely ordered or not, modern neuroscience is showing that Nature has so ordered our moral intuitions.’ [TMS III.3.9: p 140]

The recent science and the links to Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiments are worth a look here. (I’ve added in the details of the references).


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