The Economist on Moral Thinking: David Sloan Wilson’s Research

The Economist (full article here) asks a deep question:  Whence morality?

“two and a half millenia of [philosophical] debate, have…failed to produce a satisfactory answer.”

It goes on to mention the work of two researchers (evolutionary biologists) who examined two groups of self-identifying liberal and conservative teenagers, monitoring them often.  Their interpretation of the evidence suggests that the liberal teens often pride indivualism and confrontation, while the conservative teens valued collectivism and conformity.

“Dr Wilson suspects that the liberal package of individualism and confrontation is the appropriate response to survival in a stable environment in which there is leisure for learning and reflection, and the consequences for a group’s stability of such dissent are low. The conservative package of collectivism and conformity, by contrast, works in an unstable environment where joint action, and thus obedience to their group, are at a premium.”

As an insight into politics, human social structure, and an introduction to Wilson’s ideas of evolutionary biology, it’s a good start.

Of course, the philsophical arguments are still there (I’ll call the Economist once an intellectually satisfying answer is provided for moral thinking)…and it also seems foolhardy on Wilson’s part to apply the intellectual fruits of evolutionary biology directly to current politics…but interesting nonetheless.

See Also:  David Sloan Wilson’s page and Blog Posts At Huffington, Evolutionary Biology (wikipedia). The Trolley problem (wikipedia) often used to argue a non-rational (perhaps emotional) base for morality. 

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