The Roots of Good and Evil
An Interview with Paul Bloom
Harris: What are the greatest misconceptions people have about the origins of morality?
Harris: How do you distinguish between the contributions of biology and those of culture?
Harris: What are the implications of our discovering that many moral norms emerge very early in life?
Harris: When you talk about moral progress, it implies that some moralities are better than others. Do you think, then, that it is legitimate to say that certain individuals or cultures have the wrong morality?
Harris: Actually, I don’t think our views differ much. This just happens to be a place where we need to distinguish between answers in practice and answers in principle. I completely agree that there are important ethical problems that we might never solve. I also agree that there are circumstances in which we tend to act selfishly to a degree that beggars any conceivable philosophical justification. We are, therefore, not as moral as we might be. Is this really a surprise? As you know, the forces that rule us here are largely situational: It is one thing for you to toss an appeal from the Red Cross in the trash on your way to the ice cream store. It would be another for you to step over the prostrate bodies of starving children. You know such children exist, of course, and yet they are out of sight and (generally) out of mind. Few people would counsel you to let your own children go blind, but I can well imagine Peter Singer’s saying that you should deprive them of every luxury as long as other children are deprived of food. To understand the consequences of doing this, we would really need to take all the consequences into account.