Evolution and Social Sciences Seminar

Monday, March 18, 2019 12:00pm

Bond Life Sciences Center, Rm 572

H. Clark Barrett

The Evolution and Social Sciences Seminar presents, Prof. H. Clark Barrett,Department of Anthropology, UCLA, "What’s universal about human morality?" Monday, March 18, 572 Life Science Center.

Abstract: Anthropology and psychology have existed for well over a century, and philosophy much longer still. Sadly, however, these communities seem nowhere close to converging on any kind of agreement about the nature of “human nature,” or even if such a thing exists. Nowhere is this more true than in the domain of morality, which some feel is central to our humanness. Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in the empirical study of human morality, which has begun to show--yet again--substantial cross-cultural diversity in moral judgments. Still, it seems unlikely that humans could be both the “moral animal” and also completely blank-slate with respect to that morality. Here I consider universality and variation in one particular aspect of human moral judgment: the importance of an actor’s mental states, such as her intentions and motivations, for the moral assessment of her actions. Recent work has shown that mental states are important for moral judgment across human societies, but not always to the same degree and in the same ways. Interestingly, this variation does not appear to depend on peoples’ ability to make mental state judgments, which is relatively well-developed in most human adults. Instead, it seems to have to do with norms or principles of how these enter into moral evaluation, which vary across cultures and contexts. I will summarize recent cross-cultural work in this domain and consider its implications for the search for universals of human moral psychology.