Are We Born Moral?

Nov 14, 2013

Are babies born with a clean slate, or with a sense of morality?
Credit KellyNPhillong / Creative Commons
In 1965, the Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, spread stamped and addressed but un-mailed letters around public locations in New Haven. Most of the letters were picked up and mailed by strangers who could not possibly derive any material reward for doing the right thing. The strangers also lived out their values based on the address. Letters that were going to the Friends of the Nazi Party were mailed less reliably than letters going to a neutral recipient.  So, this is a nice story about our inherent altruism, our civic-mindedness, but Millgram is much more famous for his experiments in which, with a little nudging from an apparent authority figure, people were willing to inflict what appeared to be horrible acts of physical punishment on strangers. Today, Paul Bloom, also a Yale psychologist talks about which experiment tells the real story of humans. 

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  • Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Regan Professor of Psychology at Yale University and the author of Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil.
  • Shanell Smith is an ordained minister and Assistant Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Hartford Seminary.