Authors: Paul Bloom
“A wonderful, in-depth look at how our morality develops from infancy onward, making the strong case for the subtle interplay of genes and environment in the way we turn out … A must for social science enthusiasts and parents.”
, James B. Duke Professor of
Psychology and Behavioral Economics, Duke
University; author of
“Paul Bloom’s engaging explorations of the moral preferences of infants set the stage for a book that isn’t really about ‘just babies’ because it goes deeply into the nature of morality itself, for all of us. This is a book for everyone who wants to know more about the kind of moral beings we are.”
, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics,
Princeton University; author of
The Life You Can Save
“Paul Bloom has such an interesting mind, and it’s a rare treat to follow as he tracks the origins of human morality. With clarity and wit, Bloom shows that babies have an incredible amount to teach us—and in these masterful pages, the lessons are full of surprise and delight.”
, author of
Sticks and Stones
“ ‘The Origins of Good and Evil’ is an ambitious subtitle, but this book earns it. Paul Bloom combines graceful, witty writing with intellectual rigor to produce a compelling account of how and why people are so wonderful and so horrible … This book, by fostering self-reflection, is itself a tool of enlightenment, and can help humanity take another step toward the good.”
, author of
The Moral Animal
is exactly the combination of penetrating insight, cutting-edge science, and elegant prose that millions of readers have come to expect from one of psychology’s best writers and sharpest minds.”
, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology,
Harvard University; author of
Stumbling on Happiness
“Paul Bloom is a scientist who knows how to tell a fascinating and charming story. As a new parent, I found
not only full of insights into my son’s developing moral sense but also a great pleasure to read.”
, author of
Moonwalking with Einstein
is a vital contribution to the scientific study of morality that fills in a major gap in our understanding of human nature, and as a bonus it’s a riveting read!”
, publisher of
magazine; author of
The Science of Good and Evil
“Paul Bloom is one of the best psychologist-writers today. In
he combines hard data with charming anecdote and incisive analysis to explore one of the most profound questions that’s ever confronted mankind: how we become moral beings. He makes an erudite and impassioned case for the primacy of deliberation and reason in our lives—a truth given short shrift in pop psychology.”
, coauthor of
How Children Learn the Meanings of Words
How Pleasure Works
Language Acquisition: Core Readings
Language and Space
Language, Logic, and Concepts
Copyright © 2013 by Paul Bloom
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers,
an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group,
a division of Random House LLC,
a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
CROWN and the Crown colophon are registered
trademarks of Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bloom, Paul, 1963–
Just babies : the origins of good and evil /
1. Ethics—Psychological aspects. 2. Good and evil.
3. Values. 4. Child development. I. Title.
eBook ISBN: 978-0-307-88686-6
Jacket design by Christopher Brand
Jacket photography by Chris Frazer Smith (wristband);
Master file/royalty free (arms)
Dedicated to Elaine Reiser and Murray Reiser,
for their love and support
Man was destined for society. His morality, therefore, was to be formed to this object. He was endowed with a sense of right and wrong merely relative to this. This sense is as much a part of his nature, as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the true foundation of morality.… The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body.
a writer living in Dallas heard that an acquaintance of hers was suffering from kidney disease. Without a transplant, Sally Satel would soon be on dialysis, tethered to a machine to filter her blood for three days a week. After doing some research and talking with her husband, Virginia Postrel flew to Washington, D.C., and had her right kidney transplanted into Sally’s body. Kidney transplants typically occur between family members, but Virginia and Sally were not even close friends. Still, Virginia said that she felt empathy for Sally’s situation and liked the idea of being able to help in a straightforward way.
Others go even further: they log on to sites such as
and arrange to donate their kidneys and other organs to complete strangers.
Some people see this sort of altruism as evidence of
a moral code implanted by God. Among them are prominent scientists like Francis Collins, the head of the National
Institutes of Health, who argues that such acts of selflessness prove that our moral judgments and moral actions cannot be fully explained by the forces of biological evolution. They demand a theological explanation.
Along with this transcendent kindness, though, there is appalling cruelty. I read in the newspaper this morning about a man whose girlfriend broke off their relationship; he later stalked her and threw acid at her face. I remember, as a child, first hearing about the Holocaust, of gas chambers and sadistic doctors and children being turned into soap and lampshades. If our wondrous kindness is evidence for God, is our capacity for great evil proof of the Devil?
Then there are the more mundane acts of kindness and cruelty. For myself, it’s the bad things that I remember the most. Some of the choices I have made in the past still make me squirm. (If this is not true of you, then you are a much better person than I am—or much worse.) Some were honest mistakes based on what I thought was right at the time. But in other instances, I knew the right thing to do but chose to do something else. As Yoda might have put it, Strong is the Power of the Dark Side. Still, while I admit that I retain both of my kidneys, I have sacrificed to help others and taken risks for causes that I felt were right. In all of these regards, I am perfectly typical.
Morality fascinates us. The stories we enjoy the most, whether fictional (as in novels, television shows, and movies) or real (as in journalism and historical accounts), are tales of good and evil. We want the good guys to be rewarded—and we really want to see the bad guys suffer.
Our appetite for punishment can go to extremes. In England a few years ago, a cat was found trapped in a garbage bin after having been lost for many hours. The owner discovered what had happened by viewing footage from a security camera overlooking the street. A middle-aged woman had picked up the cat, looked around, opened up the bin, and tossed it in. Then she had closed up the bin and walked away. The owner posted this video on Facebook, and the woman, Mary Bale, was quickly identified. Now, it’s not hard to see why Bale’s action would be upsetting to the cat owner (and to the cat, for that matter), but thousands of people were powerfully affected by what they saw. They wanted her blood. Someone created a Facebook page called
“Death to Mary Bale,” and she had to be put under police protection. Indeed, people have been murdered by mobs that believe them to be guilty of immoral acts—including acts that others believe to be morally acceptable, such as having sex without being married.
How can we best understand our moral natures? Many would agree with Collins that this is a question of theology, while others believe that morality is best understood through the insights of novelists, poets, and playwrights. Some prefer to approach morality from a philosophical perspective, looking not at what people think and how people act but at questions of normative ethics (roughly, how one should act) and metaethics (roughly, the nature of right and wrong).
Then there is science. We can explore our moral natures using the same methods that we use to study other aspects
of our mental life, such as language or perception or memory. We can look at moral reasoning across societies or explore how people differ within a single society—liberals versus conservatives in the United States, for instance. We can examine unusual cases, such as cold-blooded psychopaths. We might ask whether creatures such as chimpanzees have anything that we can view as morality, and we can look toward evolutionary biology to explore how a moral sense might have evolved. Social psychologists can explore how features of the environment encourage kindness or cruelty, and neuroscientists can look at the parts of the brain that are involved in moral reasoning.
I will touch upon all of this in the pages that follow. But I am a developmental psychologist, so I am largely interested in exploring morality by looking at its origins in babies and young children. I will argue that contemporary developmental research tells us something striking about our moral lives.
It shows that Thomas Jefferson was right when he wrote in a letter to his friend Peter Carr: “The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree.”