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Just Babies
Cover of Just Babies
Just Babies
The Origins of Good and Evil
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A leading cognitive scientist argues that a deep sense of good and evil is bred in the bone.

From John Locke to Sigmund Freud, philosophers and psychologists have long believed that we begin life as blank moral slates. Many of us take for granted that babies are born selfish and that it is the role of society—and especially parents—to transform them from little sociopaths into civilized beings. In Just Babies, Paul Bloom argues that humans are in fact hardwired with a sense of morality. Drawing on groundbreaking research at Yale, Bloom demonstrates that, even before they can speak or walk, babies judge the goodness and badness of others' actions; feel empathy and compassion; act to soothe those in distress; and have a rudimentary sense of justice.
Still, this innate morality is limited, sometimes tragically. We are naturally hostile to strangers, prone to parochialism and bigotry. Bringing together insights from psychology, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, and philosophy, Bloom explores how we have come to surpass these limitations. Along the way, he examines the morality of chimpanzees, violent psychopaths, religious extremists, and Ivy League professors, and explores our often puzzling moral feelings about sex, politics, religion, and race.
In his analysis of the morality of children and adults, Bloom rejects the fashionable view that our moral decisions are driven mainly by gut feelings and unconscious biases. Just as reason has driven our great scientific discoveries, he argues, it is reason and deliberation that makes possible our moral discoveries, such as the wrongness of slavery. Ultimately, it is through our imagination, our compassion, and our uniquely human capacity for rational thought that we can transcend the primitive sense of morality we were born with, becoming more than just babies.
Paul Bloom has a gift for bringing abstract ideas to life, moving seamlessly from Darwin, Herodotus, and Adam Smith to The Princess Bride, Hannibal Lecter, and Louis C.K. Vivid, witty, and intellectually probing, Just Babies offers a radical new perspective on our moral lives.


From the Hardcover edition.

A leading cognitive scientist argues that a deep sense of good and evil is bred in the bone.

From John Locke to Sigmund Freud, philosophers and psychologists have long believed that we begin life as blank moral slates. Many of us take for granted that babies are born selfish and that it is the role of society—and especially parents—to transform them from little sociopaths into civilized beings. In Just Babies, Paul Bloom argues that humans are in fact hardwired with a sense of morality. Drawing on groundbreaking research at Yale, Bloom demonstrates that, even before they can speak or walk, babies judge the goodness and badness of others' actions; feel empathy and compassion; act to soothe those in distress; and have a rudimentary sense of justice.
Still, this innate morality is limited, sometimes tragically. We are naturally hostile to strangers, prone to parochialism and bigotry. Bringing together insights from psychology, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, and philosophy, Bloom explores how we have come to surpass these limitations. Along the way, he examines the morality of chimpanzees, violent psychopaths, religious extremists, and Ivy League professors, and explores our often puzzling moral feelings about sex, politics, religion, and race.
In his analysis of the morality of children and adults, Bloom rejects the fashionable view that our moral decisions are driven mainly by gut feelings and unconscious biases. Just as reason has driven our great scientific discoveries, he argues, it is reason and deliberation that makes possible our moral discoveries, such as the wrongness of slavery. Ultimately, it is through our imagination, our compassion, and our uniquely human capacity for rational thought that we can transcend the primitive sense of morality we were born with, becoming more than just babies.
Paul Bloom has a gift for bringing abstract ideas to life, moving seamlessly from Darwin, Herodotus, and Adam Smith to The Princess Bride, Hannibal Lecter, and Louis C.K. Vivid, witty, and intellectually probing, Just Babies offers a radical new perspective on our moral lives.


From the Hardcover edition.
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About the Author-
  • Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University. He is the author or editor of six books, including the acclaimed How Pleasure Works. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching, and his scientific and popular articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Nature, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Science, Slate, The Best American Science Writing, and many other publications. He lives in New Haven with his wife and two sons. Visit his website at paulbloomatyale.com and follow him on Twitter at @paulbloomatyale.


Reviews-
  • Boston Globe

    "Insightful [and] frequently funny...Bloom manages to translate abstract principles into clear, readable prose, making complex material accessible to the layperson without oversimplifying. His voice is witty, engaging, and candidly quirky...Reveals striking truths about the nature of morality and humanity."

  • The Atlantic "Fascinating."
  • New Scientist "In a lively, accessible style, Bloom...draws on research into adults from many societies, including the extant hunter-gatherer tribes. And he tackles the moral claims of philosophy and religion, arguing that we understand how the 'amoral force of natural selection' may have instilled the foundations for moral thought and action."
  • Nature "Brisk and authoritative...[Bloom's] discussion of disgust is particularly good...the experiments he describes are nifty."
  • Jim Holt, author of Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story "One comes to Paul Bloom for his unfailingly brilliant psychological research; one stays for the wise and relaxed way he writes about it."
  • Steven Pinker, professor of psychology, Harvard University; author of How the Mind Works "The rich cognitive and moral life of babies is among the most fascinating discoveries of twenty-first-century psychology. Paul Bloom explains how this work illuminates human nature, and does it with his trademark clarity, depth, discernment, and graceful style."
  • Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership, New York University Stern School of Business; author of The Happiness Hypothesis and The Righteous Mind "Take a tour through the latest and most amazing research in child psychology, and come back with a better understanding of the strange things adults do. Bloom shows us how a first rate scientist integrates conflicting findings, broad scholarship, and deep humanity to draw a nuanced and often surprising portrait of human nature, with all its beauty, horror, and wonder."
  • Martha C. Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Chicago; author of Political Emotions "Just Babies is an extremely important book. Today it is received wisdom that morality is unreal: our evolutionary instincts are purely selfish. We're also told that human society is built on irrational impulses, that reason and choice count for nothing. A leading experimental psychologist, but also a skilled reader of philosophy, Bloom authoritatively punctures both of these errors. Lively and deftly argued, with admirably fair treatment of opposing views, Just Babies shows that humans inherit a rich basis for morality, but also some disturbing tendencies. Making the best of the good and doing what we can to inhibit the bad is the job of history, culture and reason."
  • Sam Harris, author of Free Will and The End of Faith "Wonderfully clear and entertaining...If you want to understand yourself, your children, and the psychopath in the next cubicle better than you do at present--read this book."
  • Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics;
    author of Predictably Irrational
    "In Just Babies, Paul Bloom provides a wonderful, in-depth look at how our morality develops from infancy onward, making the strong case for the subtle interplay of genes and environment in the way we turn out -- a must for social science enthusiasts and parents."
  • Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University; author of The Life You Can Save "Paul Bloom's engaging explorations of the moral preferences of infants set the stage for a book that isn't really 'just babies' because it goes deeply into the nature of morality itself, for all of us. This is a book for everyone who wants to know more about the kind of moral beings we are."
  • Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy "Paul Bloom has such an interesting mind, and it's a rare treat to follow as he tracks the origins of human morality. With clarity and wit, Bloom shows that babies have an incredible amount to teach us--and in these masterful pages, the lessons are full of surprise and delight."
  • Robert Wright, author of The Moral Animal and The Evolution of God "'The Origins of Good and Evil' is an ambitious subtitle, but this book earns it. Paul Bloom combines graceful, witty writing with intellectual rigor to produce a compelling account of how and why people are so wonderful and so horrible. Drawing on his own pioneering work and the work of many other psychologists, Bloom shows that, from infancy on, the imprint of our creat
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The Origins of Good and Evil
Paul Bloom
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