In Search Of Goodness

Overview

The recent spate of books and articles reflecting on the question of evil might make one forget that the question of just what constitutes goodness is no less urgent or perplexing. Everyone wants to think of him- or herself as good. But what does a good life look like? And how do people become good? Are there multiple, competing possibilities for what counts as a good life, all equally worthy? Or, is there a unified and transcendent conception of the good that should guide our judgment of the possibilities? What ...

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Overview

The recent spate of books and articles reflecting on the question of evil might make one forget that the question of just what constitutes goodness is no less urgent or perplexing. Everyone wants to think of him- or herself as good. But what does a good life look like? And how do people become good? Are there multiple, competing possibilities for what counts as a good life, all equally worthy? Or, is there a unified and transcendent conception of the good that should guide our judgment of the possibilities? What does a good life look like when it is guided by God? How is a good life involved with the lives of others? And, finally, how good is good enough?

These questions are the focus of In Search of Goodness, the product of a year-long conversation about goodness. The eight essays in this volume challenge the dichotomies that usually govern how goodness has been discussed in the past: altruism versus egoism; reason versus emotion; or moral choice versus moral character. Instead, the contributors seek to expand the terms of the discussion by coming at goodness from a variety of perspectives:  psychological, philosophic, literary, religious, and political. In each case, they emphasize the lived realities and particulars of moral phenomena, taking up examples and illustrations from life, literature, and film. From Achilles and Billy Budd, to Oskar Schindler and Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, to Iris Murdoch and the citizens of Flagstaff, Arizona, readers will find a wealth of thought-provoking insights to help them better understand this most basic, but complex, element of human life and happiness.

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Editorial Reviews

Nannerl O. Keohane

In Search of Goodness contains eight thought-provoking essays by scholars who discuss maturing in goodness, what goodness is good for, and goodness as a feature of a human life.  With the skillful guidance of Ruth W. Grant, who organized and introduces the project, the authors avoid stereotypical ways of addressing these deceptively simple questions and draw on many different sources to shed light on them. The essays will help readers understand goodness much more fully; and they confirm the value of a ‘good conversation,’ among many other points.”
Raimond Gaita

“While one could hardly say that philosophers have given much attention to the place that the concept of evil has among our moral concepts, they have done so more in the last ten or so years than they had before. I have, therefore, often wondered why there has been so little discussion of goodness. In Search of Goodness is not only an exception: it is an admirable one. It is original and provocative, impressive both in its breadth and depth.”
Geoffrey Galt Harpham
“The subject of goodness has been remarkably resistant to innovation or fresh thinking. But this rich collection, in which each essay both takes up a different subject and adopts a distinctive approach, may succeed in putting goodness back on the agenda as a fertile field for scholarly inquiry and discussion. A renewed investigation of goodness as a fundamental component of human life would reinvigorate many fields in the humanities, and In Search of Goodness is beautifully constructed to serve precisely this purpose.”
Choice

“[An] impressive collection. . . . The book demonstrates that the good life is not a unitary ideal but a matter of how people perceive and make intelligible the significance of their experiences and human qualities. . . . [In Search of Goodness] is notable asan exemplar of interdisciplinary study, making it an excellent resource for accessing a topic whose nuances can quickly assume a vast and unwieldy quality. Recommended.”—Choice

— N. D. Zavediuk

Choice - N. D. Zavediuk

“[An] impressive collection. . . . The book demonstrates that the good life is not a unitary ideal but a matter of how people perceive and make intelligible the significance of their experiences and human qualities. . . . [In Search of Goodness] is notable as an exemplar of interdisciplinary study, making it an excellent resource for accessing a topic whose nuances can quickly assume a vast and unwieldy quality. Recommended.”
Nannerl O. Keohane

In Search of Goodness contains eight thought-provoking essays by scholars who discuss maturing in goodness, what goodness is good for, and goodness as a feature of a human life. With the skillful guidance of Ruth W. Grant, who organized and introduces the project, the authors avoid stereotypical ways of addressing these deceptively simple questions and draw on many different sources to shed light on them. The essays will help readers understand goodness much more fully; and they confirm the value of a ‘good conversation,’ among many other points.”—Nannerl O. Keohane, Princeton University

Raimond Gaita

“While one could hardly say that philosophers have given much attention to the place that the concept of evil has among our moral concepts, they have done so more in the last ten or so years than they had before. I have, therefore, often wondered why there has been so little discussion of goodness. In Search of Goodness is not only an exception: it is an admirable one. It is original and provocative, impressive both in its breadth and depth.”—Raimond Gaita, author of Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception

Geoffrey Galt Harpham

“The subject of goodness has been remarkably resistant to innovation or fresh thinking. But this rich collection, in which each essay both takes up a different subject and adopts a distinctive approach, may succeed in putting goodness back on the agenda as a fertile field for scholarly inquiry and discussion. A renewed investigation of goodness as a fundamental component of human life would reinvigorate many fields in the humanities, and In Search of Goodness is beautifully constructed to serve precisely this purpose.”—Geoffrey Galt Harpham, Director, National Humanities Center

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226306834
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2011
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Ruth W. Grant is professor of political science and philosophy and a senior fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. She is the editor of Naming Evil, Judging Evil, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Read an Excerpt

In Search of Goodness


The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2011 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-30683-4


Chapter One

The Nature and Nurture of Morality

Philip Costanzo

Wisdom has its root in goodness, not goodness its root in wisdom. RALPH WALDO EMERSON

In this chapter, I intend to examine the developmental origins of human morality and goodness. There is an enormous body of research and certainly much debate about the developmental course of moral behavior and thought in the field of developmental psychology. However, a number of competing implicit assumptions in this body of work create controversy concerning the origins of goodness in human societies. In most developmental models of moral behavior and judgment, morality and moral perspective emerge in development—either through hierarchical socialization exchanges embodying rewards, punishments, and emotionally founded appraisals or through the maturation of reasoning capacities, abilities, and cognitive structures. While this might be an overly stark and minimalist portrayal of conceptual positions on moral development, it does represent a historical and sometimes harsh primary disagreement among behavioral scientists who ponder and research the dynamics of moral acquisition.

In both conceptual accounts, to be moral is to be "correct"—either intellectually or normatively correct depending on one's taste and one's reading of the empirical evidence. The underlying premise for both views is that correctness (including normative correctness) is the primary property associated with goodness. For adherents of the hierarchical socialization viewpoint, norms, values, and standards emerging from disciplinary and other social exchanges are internalized and act as guides to goodness as it is culturally defined. In the neo-Kantian psychological models such as those put forward by Kohlberg1 and Turiel, "correctness" is indexed not by the content of moral thought and action but by the principles and underlying cognitive models driving moral appraisal. Both of these are compelling approaches; yet each assumes that the states of instinct and affect, which are evident in humans from birth and as an endowment of evolutionary survival, are irrelevant to the expression and enactment of goodness.

By noting the assumptive bases of both socialization theories and social-cognitive approaches to morality, I do not intend to gainsay the very important contributions each has made to our understanding of life course transformations in moral appraisal; however, neither model grapples well with questions concerning the inherent moral status of humanity. This may be because each of these normative models is silent on the role of instinct and native emotionality as each bears on the emergence of moral goodness. Much of psychological scholarship on moral development is about the nurturing of morality in children. The focus of this work has been upon the proper conditions for fostering moral sensibility and moral reasoning. Considerably less attention has been paid to the "hardwiring" of morality. Are we inherently moral beings with biologically anchored predispositions to recognize good and evil? Are we prone by such hardwired and species-specific predispositions to engage in acts to benefit others? Are we inherently capable of experiencing the feelings of others? Does humankind have the inherent capacity for empathy? Such questions generally have been skirted by psychological inquiries into moral development. One can productively study the developmental acquisition of morality with only diffuse reference to the native state of human beings. In the case of the two visions of moral development discussed above, such diffuse references to essential states are evident. For the cognitivist, the essential state that drives moral development is embodied by the natural tendency of humans to seek and integrate information—to act as naive epistemologists, if you will. To the extent that knowledge is assimilated in ways that result in the emergence of intellectual principles in the course of development, so do morally relevant principles emerge. For the devotee of hierarchical socialization as the root of moral dispositions, the essential states driving the acquisition of morality are social dependence and sociability. To the extent that children are biologically predisposed to "need" others, they are likewise prone to acquire the norms of those who control their needs for nurturing affection and identity. In these latter accounts morality emerges from the social nature of humans.

In summary, the primary models of moral development in the field of developmental psychology view moral acquisition as a derived and "nurtured" consequence of inborn tendencies to either seek knowledge or gain social connection—and perhaps both.

MORALITY, GOODNESS, AND THE HARDWIRING OF EMOTION

It is curious that the psychological study of moral development has typically ignored the role of emotion as a hardwired and predisposing influence on the nurturance of morality and goodness. This is curious because in adults such phenomena as violations of moral principle and observing harm to others are frequently associated with visceral arousal. Primary emotions such as pride, disgust, sadness, and guilt—for example—can, like knowledge and sociability, serve as natural primes to the development of moral behavior and the appraisal of goodness and evil. Indeed, the natural and primal tendencies for humans to "feel" in the biological and psychological senses can be viewed as the most crucial hardwiring that moves moral development. Without the inherent capacity to feel the impact of human exchange, nurturance of either knowledge or norms would be rather ineffective. Socializers capitalize on their children's emotional readiness in order to convey standards of conduct or belief that are desirable and important from their own standpoints. Morality and moral codes emerge from the attachment of emotion to acts. Caretakers, both intentionally and subintentionally, use their children's natural emotional reactivity to instantiate codes of importance. Since codes of importance can vary from parent to parent and culture to culture, the very definitions of goodness and morality also vary. Thus one might argue that goodness and morality per se are not hardwired by nature. However, the emotional properties that are pivotal to nurturing morality are the hardwired antecedents. When one combines these evolutionarily endowed systems of feeling with both our natural sociability and our need for information, one can see that the natural prerequisites for developing and nurturing morality are multiple. As such, the tendency to become moral beings is rooted in the natural attributes that enable us to do so. We feel, we think, and we require the attachments of others. This tripartite natural endowment is at the heart of the acquisition of morality.

A VIEW ON THE EMERGENCE OF MORALITY

Based on the considerations above, I will define more completely my own particular long-term perspective on the emergence of moral appraisal and naive interpretations of goodness. The backdrop for this very speculative presentation is its contrast with neo-Kantian views of reason-guided moral appraisal. While it falls in the socialization camp, this view is considerably more bound to emotional origins than are traditional socialization perspectives. As you will see, I propose that the cognitive manifestation of moral inference is most prevalent in nonvalent circumstances. For the judgment of personally "important" transactions reflecting on moral status, I propose that our affective tendencies and our socialized, emotion-guided beliefs are far more accessible guides than our logic and principles of "correct" judgment.

In presenting this conception and its attendant speculations, I will first describe the history of my current propositions concerning the primacy of moral emotion, then briefly consider the question of domain distinctions in how we deploy our moral inference. My goal is to provide a viewpoint on moral acquisition that accounts for the interconnections between nature and nurture.

Approximately thirty years ago I attended a conference where I presented my research on parents' transmission of beliefs and values to their developing children. Our work had discovered that in value domains characterized by strong parental emotion, young children were precociously sophisticated in their moral judgments of negative behavior—they discriminated badly intentioned actors from well-intentioned ones. Oddly, however, latency-aged and young adolescents did not discriminate their goodness ratings based on actors' intentions. It was "as if" these older children had internalized an unbending standard in domains of high parental emotion. Surprisingly, this absolutist judgment tendency held whether these older children reported high or low levels of emotion in domains of high parental concern. The results in domains of low parental concern were as expected: older children were more "intention-relativist" in judging these domains than were younger children. It seems that strong parental emotion is a key factor in conveying to children absolute standards for the appraisal of goodness and evil. Apparently young children associate strong emotion with parents' mentoring them to carefully consider subjective cues in judging behaviors in those domains. As they get older, however, parents' expectations for children's "correctness" in these high-emotion areas preempt the prematurely sophisticated reasoning models conveyed earlier. The transmission of emotionally significant parental beliefs to children was viewed as predicated on the children's own system of emotional arousal—a kind of emotion-based contagion of morality.

The commentator for my presentation, a fine scholar in the Kohlbergian tradition, noted that children and their moral perspective are not molded by caretakers and socializers "like so much clay." He proposed that children negotiate moral perspectives through their own encounters with moral action and in concert with their cognitive development. Indeed, this commentator seemed offended by the idea that the constraints on young children are carried forward into later childhood and "undermine" the emerging moral perspective of developing individuals. That children are not fed their appraisal apparatus but grow it from within was this commentator's presumption. Thirty years ago this perspective was the dominant one in the study of moral development. Morality could not possibly emerge out of hierarchical socialization because such an emergence represents not moral reasoning but complicity—not moral independence but slavish conformity. This could not lie at the root of human morality.

Although the commentator also conveyed other opinions about the work (some of them quite positive), these are the ones that engaged me the most. As a young parent at that time, I found it hard to discriminate my disciplinary perspective from my naive parental viewpoint. Was it really true that my attempts to get my three-year-old to share or help would have no bearing on his later sense of right and wrong, good and evil, or "correct or incorrect"? Was I only minding my child until he became cognitively equipped to reason to his own beliefs, with little impact from hierarchical socialization? Would the major part of his moral growth come in the context of negotiations with peers? As a scholar, I was intrigued by the critique—it was an interesting counterpoint to my perspective at that time. As a parent, I must admit I was a bit distressed at the idea that I was rather irrelevant to my children's moral growth. I could try to be sure that evil would not befall them and that they had sufficient stimulation and experience to cognitively advance and be prepared to negotiate with peers, but would I be barking up the wrong tree of civilization if I exerted effort to teach my children (directly or by induction) the distinctions between good and evil that I felt so strongly? At this point I became a devotee of David Hume—his philosophical approach to ethics implied that parents are meaningful and that their strong affects and feelings are powerful influences on developing children. The capacity of even young children to naturally react to and process emotional communication fed the emergence of codes of moral importance. Moral appraisal and action must emerge at least in strong measure from our feelings and emotional inclinations toward people and events. Since I had been firmly trained in the "tabula rasa" tradition of behavioral, cognitive, and emotional origins, I reasoned that one's moral emotions must emerge from socialization experience. Here my theoretical preferences and my parental ideology converged: parents, in my mind, are many things to and for their children. However, in the world of morality, they serve as "importance markers." That is, they model, directly sanction, and indirectly convey attitudes and evaluative affect concerning acceptable or "good" behavior and unacceptable or "bad" behavior. I further assumed (with rather interesting data to support it) that these evaluative proclivities are transmitted to children and are encoded and internalized as both beliefs and emotion markers that drive the cognitive and affective processing of events and the people who populate, "cause," and are affected by those events. Of course, these socialization-based moral emotions are not manifested whole, unaffected by other experiences with peers or by changes in our reasoning models, but they constitute a set of guiding indexes that bias the way we process the moral relevance of information.

Many of the somewhat anomalous effects found by social psychologists can be linked to shared affective biases. It is not reasonable to blame victims for their suffering—but we often do so. It is not particularly a product of reason for individuals to implicitly assume that persons of a given race are more or less adequate than those of another race. Similarly, our in-group biases are not predicated on an intellectually guided sorting of information. If to these shared effects we add individual proclivities emerging from particularized socialization experiences, it is clear that affect often trumps reason. A further, somewhat anomalous turn in all this is that when we employ these biases, they often feel right, logical, and given by the "data." Indeed, if we consider the work of researchers such as John Bargh and Dan Wegner, these biases seem to occur "automatically" and without detailed reflection.

So for most of the past thirty years I became an unabashed supporter of the perspective that moral behavior and conceptions of good and evil were made up of subtle intergenerationally scaffolded and socializer-induced moral emotions—moral emotions that frequently trump or preempt our emerging cognitive sophistication. The impact of these morally conveyed emotions assumes prewired and naturally evident emotions in children. To some extent, applying information-guided principles is superfluous when we have strong a priori affect that indexes right and wrong or good and bad for each of us. It isn't that we do not "think" our way to "correct" inferences—the irony is that we are resplendent with human reason when the emotional stakes are low, but when the stakes are high, moral emotion is our typical intuitive guide. Systems of Western jurisprudence seem intuitively aware of this irony—juries must be instructed to employ a rational calculus in judging fault. The emotional significance of crimes (e.g., child molestation) renders balanced and principled reasoning difficult. In Jon Haidt's terms, these kinds of behaviors are "morally dumbfounding" even when mitigating circumstances should lessen judgments of fault. More explicitly, Haidt observed that in morally intensified circumstances, particularly when powerful cultural taboos are violated, we experience a strong sense of wrongness, even while we feel at a loss for intellectually guided moral arguments to support that sense of wrongness. In short, we are dumbfounded.

In a chapter in the 1991 volume Context and Development, I proposed this importance-marked distinction in social and moral judgment as one component of a dual-process model of moral "cognition." Emotion-governed moral inference and intuition (because of its early developmental roots) is dictated by the conservation of either individual or group identity (depending on cultural context). Familiar affects in response to current behavior are identity preservative. The second process in this pairing is devoted to accuracy and correctness—also an adaptive human need. In important transactions identity trumps correctness, and for this reason our emotions become our biased guide to the moral significance of actions.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from In Search of Goodness Copyright © 2011 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface

Introduction 

Ruth W. Grant

Chapter One – The Nature and Nurture of Morality

Philip Costanzo

 

Chapter Two – “Generous to a Fault”: Moral Goodness and Psychic Health

Ruth W. Grant

Chapter Three – Are Moral Conversions Possible?

David B. Wong

 

Chapter Four – What Good Is Innocence?

J. Peter Euben

Chapter Five – God and Goodness: A Theological Exploration

Stanley Hauerwas

Chapter Six – To Make This Emergence Articulate: The Beautiful, the Tragic Sublime, the Good, and the Shapes of Common Practice

Romand Coles

Chapter Sever – The Tragedy of the Goods and the Pursuit of Happiness: The Question of the Good and the Goods

Michael Allen Gillespie

Chapter Eight – The Goodness of Searching: Good as What? Good for What? Good for Whom?

Amelie Oksenberg Rorty

Contributors

Index of Names

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