Nicolas Baumard

What Are the Bases of Morality? Publication date : October 21, 2010

Nicolas Baumard is a Research Fellow in the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University. His research interests include cognitive sciences and philosophy.

What is morality? Why do we behave morally? Where do our ideas about good and evil come from? These are the questions that this book sets out to answer.
Ever since Antiquity, philosophers have tried to explain morality, and for a long time they have been aware of its specificity. Morality cannot be reduced to a set of well-understood interests: we do not behave morally in order to elicit praise or because we fear punishment. Moral behaviour has its own reasons. In addition, morality cannot be reduced simply to a love of others: love and morals may be opposed, as in cases where the former prompts us to favour our loved ones, while the latter keeps us from doing so.
So what is morality? Faced with this question, philosophers have developed two approaches. Some philosophers, delving into the logic of morals, have tried to reduce moral judgments to a few principles: justice, equity, virtue, etc. For them, morality is based on a sort of contract between individuals: we act the way we do so as never to be reproached by others for taking more than our share. And yet, this takes us no further in explaining such attitudes. Other philosophers argue that, on the contrary, we are naturally endowed with a sense of morality: we have a moral sense just as we have two arms and two legs.
Until the present, the controversy remained theoretical. But now numerous research studies have shown that human beings are endowed with a sort of “moral organ” that disposes them to act morally. The discussion is thus no longer simply speculative. But even if morality is a natural disposition, it still has to be demonstrated why it adopts “the logic of equity”. That is what this book aims to do.

• Why are we moral? The great classical philosophical theories are examined here in the light of the latest research in the areas of ethology, psychology and the cognitive sciences as they relate to the natural foundations of morality.