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Just Babies

The Origins of Good and Evil

By Paul Bloom
19-minute read
Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom

Just Babies is about the development of morality in humans. It explores the emotions that help us to be moral, the influence family and kinship have on our moral judgements, and how society as a whole fosters morality. The book also shows what happens when we lack the emotions crucial to acting morally.

  • Anyone interested in the building blocks of morality
  • Anyone who wants to learn how morality is invoked

Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University. In 2003 he won the Stanton Prize from the Society for Philosophy and Psychology for outstanding, early-career contributions to interdisciplinary research. His other bestsellers are How Pleasure Works (2010) and Descartes’ Baby (2004).

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Just Babies

The Origins of Good and Evil

By Paul Bloom
  • Read in 19 minutes
  • Contains 12 key ideas
Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom
Synopsis

Just Babies is about the development of morality in humans. It explores the emotions that help us to be moral, the influence family and kinship have on our moral judgements, and how society as a whole fosters morality. The book also shows what happens when we lack the emotions crucial to acting morally.

Key idea 1 of 12

Some form of moral judgement seems to be innate.

Have you ever looked at a baby and wondered what on earth was going through its mind? Although it might not seem like much, there’s probably a lot more going on in there than you'd think. After all, babies already possess some innate feelings about what’s right and wrong.

Even though we can’t ask babies about their judgments, researchers have found ways to make educated guesses about their moral feelings.

In one experiment, researchers showed nine- and 12-month-old infants images of a ball trying to get up a hill with either a helpful character (a square gently pushing the ball uphill) or a hindering character (a triangle pushing the ball back down). Afterward, they showed a sequence where the ball would approach either the square or the triangle. Both the nine- and 12-month-olds spent a longer amount of time looking at the images when the ball approached the hindering character than when it approached the helpful character.

According to the researchers, this indicated that the children had developed expectations of how the ball would react to the hindering character and therefore looked longer when the ball acted differently from how they’d expected.

In a second experiment, the researchers added eyes to the shapes, making them look more like people, which they used to deduce that the children were making a social judgement about the hindering character.

Critics of the experiment think it only shows that babies developed expectations of what would happen, not which shape they morally preferred.

Therefore the original researchers conducted a third experiment in which they used three-dimensional puppets instead of animated geometric shapes. Again, there was a ball either being helped or hindered by a puppet, and instead of simply using “looking measures,” the researchers adopted “reaching measures” to determine which puppet the kids preferred.

Almost all the babies reached for the helpful puppet, demonstrating their opinion of “good” and “bad” and, in doing so, an innate form of moral judgement.

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