The classic and controversial argument that morality is based in human nature.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyIn this age of self-gratification and widespread lawlessness, Wilson ( Thinking About Crime ) takes the unfashionable view that a moral sense is part of our basic nature, albeit one that competes with our narrowly defined self-interest. In this lucid, elegant, magisterial and controversial essay, the eminent social scientist, a public policy professor at UCLA, punctures the tenets of neo-Darwinian biologists, cultural relativists, Freudians, behaviorists and anthropologists. Social bonds, he argues, are not entirely a matter of convention or a tool to ensure perpetuation of the species. Instead, our moral faculties--sympathy, fairness, self-control, etc.--grow directly out of our mutual interdependence as social animals. Wilson believes that the moral sense is formed as the child's innate disposition interacts with earliest familial experiences. Self-restraints on appetites are built into the ``primitive'' limbic brain, he stresses. Perhaps his most controversial thesis is that men and women differ in their moral orientation, with men more inclined to emphasize justice and emotional control, while women stress sympathy, caring and cooperation. First serial to Commentary, Crisis, and Public Interest. (July)
Library JournalThe author, a political scientist, argues that human beings all share a ``moral sense'' rooted in human biology and evolution. Using data from anthropology, sociology, biology, and psychology, he argues that this ``sense'' does not consist of universal rules of conduct but rather of shared tendencies toward sympathy, fairness, self-control, and duty. While Wilson shows that these tendencies can be shaped--or distorted--by cultural forces, they are strong enough to counter the postmodern tendency toward complete cultural relativism. The masterful synthesis of data from many disciplines (plus the fact that excerpts from this title are serialized in several leading current affairs journals like Commentary , Public Interest , and American Enterprise ) make this an essential title for any academic or public library serving an intellectural clientele.-- Mary Ann Hughes, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
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James Q. Wilson presents a scholarly compilation of illustrative (if not evidentiary)data commendably drawn from many disciplines across ethnic and cultural boundaries to define the roots and dimensions of our moral self: an innate sense of fairness, empathy, duty and self-discipline that transcends cultures, yet seems enhanced in the arms of a solidly-nurtured family life. Perhaps a little too heavy on principles of social Darwinism, at times Wilson's morality seems epitomized in a well-behaved colony of ants. Readers well versed in moral development will find the discussion enthralling; those of us who are less versed will perhaps be befuddled about what to do with it all. All readers will value The Moral Sense as a rich resource, teeming with meaningful food for thought about what morality is and how we get it. Wilson claims to have written The Moral Sense 'to recover the confidence with which [people] once spoke about virtue and morality' and not 'to make a case for some currently disputed moral question,' when in fact, whether and how we speak of virtue and morality is a currently disputed moral question. Nonetheless, and commendably, Wilson's sophisticated reflection and analysis more or less rise above political rhetoric. Kudos for the proposition that runaway cultural sensitivities must not impede a common moral expectation. Oh, and be forewarned, its compactness makes it a somewhat slow read, albeit a worthwhile one.