Pinker has a quite good article in the NY Times.
There isn’t too much new there, but it offers a good overview of some of the ideas of Moral Psychology and relates them to issues of the environment at the end.
I’m glad that he brings up Peter Singer’s idea of the expanding circle of reciprocal trust and action. He once again dismisses religion by saying that Plato did away with it 2,400 years ago, which again, seems a bit odd, but the article has a lot of good info.
It does seem funny that these guys keep insisting that “love thy neighbor as thy self” is the ultimate moral concept, but keep dismissing religion. Oh well.
Here’s the link if you guys get a chance. It’s about eight pages; so probably takes about fifteen minutes to read.
Thanks so much for posting this Ned. It was on my list of things to do.
As far as dismissing religion, the scientific lens is will never be satisfied with the “because I said so” necessity of a religious institution. As the church (arguably) diminishes in its influence, it seems critical to fill that gap of “Thou-Shalt” with something like “If-Then.”
I don’t mean to open a can of worms here, but my view is that the essential elements of religion, which should be preserved, are not at risk of being thrown out with “magic tricks” and over bearing authority that have turned so many against religion. Ultimately morality will win out over nihilism and I think Pinker and many others are doing important work that will help shepherd many people through a difficult transition as painlessly as possible.
I wish I could make more time to write further on this but there you have it.
For those of you who may not take the time to read this (though hope you do), here, in my estimation, is the crux quoted at length:
I guess I am in basic agreement with you.
I think that the basic tenets of religion will be preserved because they are true.
I don’t think you’ve opened a can of worms. I have been frustrated with instiutions too, but also suprised at how they force me to open myself to people with whom I may have very little in common, and really that may be more what is needed than anything. So in some ways I am stretched by the experience even though I am as often annoyed by it. I think the “because I said so” is perhaps an unfair characterization, but I certainly understand and can sympathize with what you are saying.
I think the Chekov quote is revealing in a number of ways, but especially in that it exposes one of my questions about moral psychology. M.P. tends to be a lens with which to interpret behavior and make one more self aware like a backwards looking lens, but it is very difficult in other ways to “apply” it in the way other psychological studies are applied, but that may be due to its relative newness. There’s my impatience rearing its head.
I think it is interesting that our experiences as youths are very closely related through locality and high school, but I think our religious experiences are actually vastly different.
I also think it would be interesting, if not a little too personal to investigate how much or how little we feel our world views have been swayed by spouses, family, friends, colleagues, etc.
I understand what Pinker is saying when he says non-zero plus is in the nature of things, meaning it is a mathematical reality that plays out to our advantage if we let it. But I guess, maybe for me only, I think that the fact that all of this scientific exegesis leads us to the revelation that “love thy neighbor as thy self” is still the best policy at least gives me pause that there is a sort of divinity in that truth, as John Stuart Mill recognized. Pinker says there is nothing supernatural about it, and I can certainly sympathize and very often contemplate that. If we both agree that it’s true, does it matter why?
Oh, and I think it is interesting that Pinker uses the example of hoarding surpluses while they rot. This is exactly an example that John Ruskin uses in a bit more depth when discussing the morality of commerce and Capitalism in “Unto This Last.” A book that influenced Gandhi, Marcel Proust, and William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Finally, here’s a quote from Gilead that I should probably take to heart. “Nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense.”
Oddly Ned, you and I seem to be on the same wavelength. Most likely as you were typing this response I was wondering about our contrasting religious experiences and how we both have arrived to this moment. It would be good to compare all of the HM experience if it is not too personal to be slinging about on a blog.
There’s a lot to respond to here but what especially struck me were your comments on how institutions stretch your experience. In all aspects of my life I am very jealous of my time and I do avoid social interactions that involve the risk of “wasting” my time. I know this may be a failing of mine but I just can’t bring myself to risk it. i guess this is where authority and social obligation come in handy.