How Do You Know If You're A Good Person?

Illustration for article titled How Do You Know If You're A Good Person?

What are morals? And why does generation after generation insist on infusing certain behaviors, whether they be eating pork or eating meat, cloning cows or cloning zygotes, driving pickups or buying Barbies at Wal-Mart, drinking or smoking, with the radioactive taint that is MORALITY? Why do the universal biological instincts we call "conscience" impel toddlers to offer you their drool-stained teddy bears when they see you cry, and yet adults, in the name of the universal moral order their consciences supposedly constructed, see fit to publicly flog other adults who allow said children to name their teddy bears "Mohammed"? What was up with Will Smith telling that newspaper he didn't think Hitler thought of himself as a terrible guy? And why the fuck are people so quick to misinterpret every goddamn thing someone says, as if they've been standing in the shadows for years, waiting for that deep-rooted innermost hatefulness to reveal itself? Why does righteousness so easily slide into immorality? And why does every experiment testing the universality of "morals" involve runaway tolleys? Is what we call "morality" just another example of of evolutionary biology, which is the new "socialization"? Can we blame Darwin for Bratz dolls, AND our moral opposition to the existence of Bratz dolls in our Wal-Mart stores?

Is it all just the selfish pursuit of recycling our genes and keeping the Human Race from going extinct? Readers, I pondered all this and the ethics of throwing a fat man in front of a trolley to save five thin workers — most people wouldn't do it, apparently for biologically-ingrained moral reasons —over the weekend, when I ventured deep into the 90 zillion word philosophical abyss that was the cover story of the New York Times Magazine. I did it so you wouldn't have to, and I probably should have just gotten drunk because all I got for ya:

Far from debunking morality, then, the science of the moral sense can advance it, by allowing us to see through the illusions that evolution and culture have saddled us with and to focus on goals we can share and defend. As Anton Chekhov wrote, "Man will become better when you show him what he is like."


So essentially, the conclusion is that thinking about morality all the time will give you better morals. Thanks guys! I already suffered through four years of Catholic school. Would it have killed you to incorporate Angelina Jolie into this story somehow?

The Moral Instinct [NY Times]

Share This Story

Get our `newsletter`


@meaghan2k: Both my degrees are in Philosophy and all it does is make me find everything funny. I suppose this whole subject was really beaten to death in MacIntyre's "After Virtue." To say that morality is an emotive thing instead of a non-changing absolute was, in his eyes, absolutely wrong. And I have never had sex with a child or the desire to.