January 14, 2008
In last week's magazine section of the New York Times, Steven Pinker, a professor of Psychology at Harvard University wrote a very interesting and insightful article entitled "the Moral Instinct: Evolution has endowed us with ethical impulses. Do we know what to do with them?"
The article has generated quite a buzz in the blog world.
The essay addresses some interesting questions one of which is fundamental: Is a moral sense an innate part of human nature? The author believes that there is "circumstantial evidence" that morality genes exist.
This could very well be true. The fact that one day we may be able prove it scientifically or even locate a morality gene in our system is quite amazing.
However we have to make sure that the concept does not reduce our personal responsibility in making tough ethical decisions and give us excuses when we make a decision we later think is wrong. "The devil made me do it" is never to right response to a shortcoming.
I always believed that we all have an innate conscience but that our individual and our collective conscience evolve with experience, information and education. Providing information and education is one of the roles that an ethicist plays in society.
What about our soul? Will we one day isolate the soul gene? I doubt it. As Andre Frossard, the French Catholic author and journalist, who I had the honor to know quite well once said: "Never ask Science to answer your metaphysical questions."