Just Babies


Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom is a little gem of a book. The cover is brilliant and is what initially drew me in to even taking a look at it. I really enjoy books about psychology, and this didn't disappoint. The description was really intriguing, so between that and the cover, I knew it was a must-read:

"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."

This is a small little paperback (I was expecting a large, thick trade paperback style book due to the subject matter, and worried it might be a bit dry). Not including the notes, it's just 218 pages. It's written in an easy-to-read, entertaining, and engaging manner - it reads like a magazine article. It's a quick book to breeze through with tons of interesting content. I was especially taken by the experiments they do with babies - I had no idea studies like this were performed and found the results very interesting. As a precaution, Bloom does have some areas in the book that read as anti-Christian (homosexuality and Christians' beliefs and behavior toward homosexuals is discussed in a negative light). As another reviewer has mentioned, the best part to me is that much of the studies portrayed here and facts drawn from them corroborate what the Bible tells us about morality - we have the moral law of God written in our hearts ("But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people." -Jeremiah 31:33 KJV), and sin nature - despite God's moral law written in our hearts, we have an innate sin nature passed down from Adam, and we are born with it ("The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies." -Psalm 58:3 KJV; Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." -Psalm 51:5 NIV). I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading books about psychology.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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