November 12, 2010
Babies and bullies
Scottish philosopher David Hume.
The debate about the origin of morality is an old one in philosophy. Two major strands emerged in western philosophy in the 18th century.
One of these was associated with thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment such as David Hume and Adam Smith. This tradition found the basis of morality to be in the emotions, as expressed in the title of Smith's work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. By contrast, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant attempted to base morality on reason.
Two hundred plus years later--and with lots of water under the bridge--it looks like the Scottish Enlightenment holds up pretty well in light of evolutionary biology and research on the emotions.
A major ingredient of morality is empathy, which is nothing if not putting yourself in the place of another and trying to feel what he or she feels.
Here's an interesting item about how an innovative project is combating bullying by reawakening empathy.
Note: props are required, including a live infant.
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