Evolutionary psychology: Moral judgement based on “rather primitive emotion”

In “Psychologists Shed Light On Origins Of Morality” (ScienceDaily Mar. 2, 2009), we read,

In everyday language, people sometimes say that immoral behaviours “leave a bad taste in your mouth”. But this may be more than a metaphor according to new scientific evidence from the University of Toronto that shows a link between moral disgust and more primitive forms of disgust related to poison and disease.

“Morality is often pointed to as the pinnacle of human evolution and development,” says lead author Hanah Chapman, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology. “However, disgust is an ancient and rather primitive emotion which played a key evolutionary role in survival. Our research shows the involvement of disgust in morality, suggesting that moral judgment may depend as much on simple emotional processes as on complex thought.”

[ … ]

The U of T team found that people make similar facial movements in response to both primitive forms of disgust and moral disgust.

Ah, so that proves it then!

The problem with evolutionary psychology is not just its untethered speculation but its reflexive tendency to define explicitly human activities via non-human, subhuman, or prehuman models.

Moral disgust is an explicitly intellectual activity. Consider the following situations:

– a nursing home attendant flushes an old lady’s dinner down the toilet so she doesn’t have to help feed her, and steals from her purse when she is asleep. The old lady is too frightened to say anything.

– a social worker pressures clients to sleep with him, in which case he will put through the paperwork for benefits (to which they are legally entitled).

What provokes disgust is the difference between the way things are and the way they ought to be

So the question is, how do we know what ought to be?

Also just up at The Mindful Hack:

Neuroscience: Mirror neurons – cracks appearing?

Animal minds: Rooks in captivity show more feats using tools

Meditation: More on how meditation changes the brain

Neuroscience: When reduction fails fails

Denyse O’Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

One thought on “Evolutionary psychology: Moral judgement based on “rather primitive emotion”

  1. Bhatnagar provides the ilfoowlng quote from the Ramayana: “Rama was born on the Navami tithi of Shukla Paksha of Chaitra masa (9th day of the increasing phase of the moon in the lunar month of Chaitra). At that time, the nakshatra was Punarvasu, and Sun, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus were in Aries, Capricorn, Libra, Cancer and Pisces respectively. Lagna was Cancer and Jupiter & Moon were shining together. — Ramayana 1.18.8,9The conditions can be summarized as follows, according to Bhatnagar:1. Sun in Aries2. Saturn in Libra3. Jupiter in Cancer4. Venus in Pisces5. Mars in Capricorn6. Lunar month of Chaitra7. 9th day after New Moon (Navami Tithi, Shukla Paksh)8. Moon near Punarvasu Nakshatra (Pollux star in Gemini constellation)9. Cancer as Lagna (Cancer constellation rising in the east)10. Jupiter above the horizonAccording to the Planetarium software, it provides the ilfoowlng date: Sri Rama Navami 10th January 5114 BCE Birth Day of Rama, Observation at 12.30 p.m.Bhatnagar continues: “By using a powerful planetarium software, I found that the planetary positions mentioned in Ramayana for the date of birth of Lord Ram had occurred in the sky at around 12.30 p.m. of 10th January 5114 BC. It was the ninth day of the Shukla Paksh of Chaitra month too. Moving forward, after 25 years of the birth of Lord Ram, the position of planets in the sky tallies with their description in Ramayana. Again, on the amavasya (new moon) of the 10th month of the 13th year of exile the solar eclipse had indeed occurred and the particular arrangement of planets in the sky was visible. ( Date comes to 7th October, 5077 BC). Even the occurrence of subsequent two eclipses also tally with the respective description in Valmiki Ramayana. (Date of Hanuman’s meeting Sita at Lanka was 12th September, 5076 BC). In this manner the entire sequence of the planetary positions gets verified and all the dates can be precisely determined.”

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