What makes us want to be good?

By Jason Marsh | January 16, 2008 | 0 comments

Readers who saw this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine might have been forgiven for thinking they were cracking open the latest issue of Greater Good. The cover story–"The Moral Instinct." by Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker–explores the evolutionary and neurobiological roots of human morality. It touches on a great deal of scientific research that has been covered in Greater Good, particularly by Joshua Halberstam's essay on everyday ethics (from our Summer 2006 issue) and our Summer 2005 essay on "moral inspiration" by psychologist Jonathan Haidt, whose work Pinker discusses at length.

I thought it was interesting that Pinker's piece came almost exactly one year after the Times Magazine ran a cover story on the new science of happiness ("Happiness 101″). (It seems as if the NYT Mag is devoting its first or second cover story each year to a piece on new psychological research.) There was no overlap between the research covered in Pinker's piece and the happiness piece. But I would argue that the crux of Greater Good's worldview lies in how we synthesise the science covered by those two pieces: moral, altruistic behavior doesn't only carry social benefits, it's also the root of personal happiness; to understand the roots of human morality is to understand the roots of human happiness.

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About The Author

Jason Marsh is the editor in chief of Greater Good.


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