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Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil

Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil - Paul Bloom BLUF: Pass on this. This book discusses morality, but will not bring you much insight into the origins of good and evil, as the title suggests.

When you title a book “Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil”, your readers expect you to primarily talk about babies, goodness, and evil. Pretty straightforward, right? Not in this case. This book spent the majority of its content on goodness, about third of its content on babies, and very little content, if any, on evilness.

Essentially, this book is on morality. But isn’t morality good versus evil? No, not really. Morality regards right and wrong, specifically in relation to one’s cultures.

As for babies and morality, this book does focus on a number of studies, which found that small children prefer characters that assist or are positive towards others over characters that cause detriment or are otherwise neutral to the situation. It also found that babies are more likely to share with a familiar face than an unfamiliar one, if you want to freak out a baby, just act frozen, and “no baby is an island”. Of course, these last concepts don’t attribute to the purpose of the book.

That’s about it for the babies in this book. No joke.

An interesting thing mentioned in this book about children is that children (when making friends or choosing who to talk to) are more likely to be drawn to a person of their own race over the race of another. At the same time, children are more likely to be drawn to a person with the same accent (regardless of race) over a child of the same race but a foreign accent. This was tied into morality through discussion of how people treat/mistreat others, i.e. racism, sexism, etc. The idea being that we prefer what is familiar and the best way to make unfamiliar cultures become familiar is through personal contact and stories. Personally, I don’t see a strong connection between morality and this information, but I do find it interesting.

The other main discussion involving children was shown to apply to both children and adults: we become bothered when we are rewarded less than those around us. As with above, I fail to see the point that relates it to the book. Again, it’s not about babies, not about good, and not about evil. Hmm..

Let’s sum up the book with one of its’ parting ideas:

“Moral deliberation is ubiquitous, but psychologist typically overlook it. This is, in part, because everybody loves counterintuitive findings. Discovering that individuals have moral intuitions that they struggle to explain is exciting and can get published in a top journal. Discovering that individuals have moral intuitions that they can easily explain, such as the wrongness of drunk driving, is obvious, uninteresting, and unpublishable. It is fascinating to discover that individuals who are asked to assign a punishment to a criminal are influenced by factors that they are unaware of, like the presence of the flag in the room, or that they would consciously disavow, like the color of the criminal’s skin. It is boring to find that individuals proposed punishments are influenced by rational considerations, such as the severity of the crime and the criminal’s previous record. Interesting.”

For having this idea (perhaps truth) about human interest, the author spends a lot of his time sharing information that one forms from common sense or is not really relevant to his books’ concept. This causes the book to fall in the “obvious” and “uninteresting” category listed above.

Warning, this is a rant: The book provided ideas like this: “Scientist X believes in Theory Y. Theory Y is [explanation]. Most people in the field today don’t agree”. If this happened once, I wouldn’t be whining to you right now. It was so frustrating to listen to theories that made sense, but resulted in the author sharing that he doesn’t believe they are relevant for some reason or another.