Moral Tribes Book Summary - Moral Tribes Book explained in key points
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Moral Tribes summary

Joshua Greene

Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them

4.1 (175 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

'Moral Tribes' by Joshua Greene explores the science behind moral decision-making and how it can lead to conflict. He proposes a new approach to resolving disagreements by developing a shared moral language based on reason and compassion.

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    Moral Tribes
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    Cooperation between groups is often undermined by self-interest or a group’s own sense of morality.

    The world is changing rapidly, but humans are still biologically much the same. Evolution has given us the skills to cooperate within groups, but unfortunately, our ability to cooperate between groups still leaves much to be desired. The history of conflict is enough to tell us that.

    Mutually beneficial cooperation is endangered by many things, but the clearest threat is what’s known as the tragedy of the commons.

    This is fancy sociology speak for the conflict between self-interest and collective interest: in other words, Me Versus Us/ You.

    Imagine that Art is journeying alone through the Wild West. He spots the silhouette of another traveler up ahead at a watering hole. Art isn’t sure whether the stranger is armed, but Art does have his pistols with him. They meet and size each other up as their horses drink at the watering hole.

    If Art thinks selfishly, there’s little to be lost if he shoots Bud, the stranger. There’d be no chance of Art getting robbed, for starters. But let’s say that Art opts not to shoot Bud, for now. When Art later nods off, Bud spikes his whiskey with poison. Bud, you see, is also afraid of being robbed. When Art wakes, he changes his mind and shoots Bud dead. Then he unwittingly knocks back the poisoned whiskey and dies. If Art and Bud had been less self-interested and instead acted cooperatively, neither would have died.

    A second threat to mutually beneficial cooperation is known as the tragedy of commonsense morality. This time it’s a question of Us Versus Them. In other words, one group sets its own values against those of another.

    An excellent example of this mentality is demonstrated by the story of the Danish political newspaper Jyllands-Posten. In response to the Islamic hadith forbidding visual depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, it published a series of cartoons satirizing Muhammad in 2005. The general climate was also important: there was an ongoing debate about journalists self-censoring their views on Islam.

    Global media outlets followed the controversy. Before long, violent protests sprang up around the Muslim world. Over a hundred people were killed, and Danish embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran were set on fire.

    The two groups – Danish journalists and Muslims – were each fighting for what they saw as commonsense morality. The journalists hated feeling censored, while Muslims didn’t want their religion disrespected. But the end result was conflict. This is how commonsense morality can lead to tragedy.

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    What is Moral Tribes about?

    Moral Tribes (2013) shows how humans have learned to make moral decisions. Humans once lived as close-knit tribes but have now formed more complex societies. We debate everything from abortion laws to global warming and wonder if we’ll ever agree on solutions. These blinks show us how best to make moral decisions that will benefit everyone.

    Moral Tribes Review

    Moral Tribes (2013) by Joshua Greene is a thought-provoking book that explores the moral dilemmas we face in a diverse society. Here's why we recommend reading it:

    • The book offers a fresh perspective on morality by combining scientific insights with real-life examples, making it a captivating read.
    • Greene challenges conventional wisdom by arguing that our moral intuitions are not always reliable and provides compelling evidence to support his claims.
    • With its accessible writing style and engaging storytelling, the book manages to tackle complex moral issues without being dry or tedious.

    Best quote from Moral Tribes

    Cooperation is why were here, and yet, at the same time, maintaining cooperation is our greatest challenge.

    —Joshua Greene
    example alt text

    Who should read Moral Tribes?

    • Generations of the same family sick of arguing about the same things
    • Community leaders searching for decision-making guidance
    • Rationalists who want to break out of their logic and keep their friends and family happy

    About the Author

    Joshua Greene studied philosophy at Harvard and Princeton universities and has since worked as a neuroscientist, psychologist and philosopher. His research has been featured in the New York Times. He is currently a professor of psychology at Harvard University.

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    Moral Tribes FAQs 

    What is the main message of Moral Tribes?

    The main message of Moral Tribes is that moral decisions are shaped by both reason and emotion, and that we can strive for a more harmonious society by understanding and resolving moral conflicts.

    How long does it take to read Moral Tribes?

    The reading time for Moral Tribes varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Moral Tribes a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Moral Tribes is a thought-provoking book that explores the complexities of morality and offers insights into how societies can navigate moral dilemmas. It is definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of Moral Tribes?

    The author of Moral Tribes is Joshua Greene.

    What to read after Moral Tribes?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Moral Tribes, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • The Mindful Body by Ellen J. Langer
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