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on 29 June 2015
This book makes a good case for using a nuanced version of utilitarianism as a guiding principle for public discussion of policy that could be considered to have a "moral" dimension. He makes the very frequent error, which goes right back to Plato, of assuming that once you have sorted out the public realm you can then dictate that morality to the individual. In a cold, uncaring, impersonal universe this is, of course, completely untrue and personal conduct can only be guided by what satisfies the individual, and what they can get away with without bringing down the wrath of society upon their heads. His worked example (using the American controversy over abortion law) of how an "objective approach" can be applied is an inadvertent demonstration of how difficult this is. Without necessarily disagreeing with the outcome it is rather remarkable that it is perfectly in line with his self-defined membership of the "liberal" tribe.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 March 2018
This is an interesting book for the most part which examines moral philosophy and makes a strong case that utilitarianism, or deep pragmatism as the author calls is the most appropriate way to being about progress through a meta morality. The analysis of various social science and behavioural experiments can be a little tedious at times - although to be fair the author does suggest that the reader skip sections if already convinced. Perhaps not as compelling reading as Haidt's Righteous Mind, which the author refers to quite frequently in this book, and not as thought provoking as Thinking Fast and Slow, but if you enjoyed either of those books you will probably enjoy this too
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on 19 February 2018
This should be on everyone's bookshelf!
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on 16 March 2018
Very Interesting Read
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on 18 January 2018
Good purchase
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on 22 March 2015
Firstly, I would like to say that book is exceptionally well-written, probably one of the most well-constructed piece of popular science writing I have read in quite a few years. As well, as being well-written it is also a very informative book, providing clear and concise explanations of relevant theories within the domains of psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and ethics. Of particular note, is Greene's account of moral duel process theory and his own modular myopia hypothesis which has the benefit of appearing to be both coherent and feasible.

However, make no mistake, the real purpose of this book is to, from the perspective of a moral psychologist and philosopher provide a 21st century defence of utilitarianism or 'deep pragmatism' as Greene prefers to call it. The goal of the author is to develop a meta-morality which transcends local tribal values.

To achieve this, Greene postulates that any candidate meta-ethical theory must provide a 'common currency' which is universal for people of different tribes with different values. For Greene, utilitarianism meets this condition because it i) maximises happiness and ii) has the property of impartiality.

The problem is that whilst Greene does a fairly good job of justifying the idea that generally happiness should generally be maximised, his defence for the second axiom of 'impartiality' is very poorly discussed and defended: According to Greene, all religions support the 'golden rule' and hence adopts the principle of impartiality. But the question remains - between which groups does this impartiality exist? Greene assumes that impartiality extends to everyone - with no respect to family, race, religion, profession, class and all the other categories which have defined human relations throughout millennia.

But did all the major religions have this in mind when establishing the Golden Rule? Is Jew equal to Gentile? Christian equal to the Barbarian and the Muslim equal to the Kuffir? Furthermore, Greene quotes Peter Singer on plenty of occasions through the book, but does the principle of impartiality extend to non-human animals? If it not, why not? If it does, does Greene expect that the typical human, even in principle, will want to value the life of a stranger, or even the life on animal above the life of himself or his own family?

Evidently, Greene has not answered the problems associated with the concept of impartiality. As a result, he cannot demonstrate that utilitarianism provides the long-sought after 'common currency' which would be necessary for its role as a meta-ethical theory which transcends tribal boundaries. With these shaky foundations, the rest of the theory inevitably fails to persuade

In this sense, Greene's book fails in what it attempts to achieve
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on 21 November 2013
If you enjoy books such as Thinking Fast And Slow and The Righteous Mind you should definitely read Moral Tribes. Its author, Joshua Green, is a moral psychologist who directs the Harvard University Moral Cognition Lab. The book covers a lot of recent research into how we make 'moral' decisions, but its main focus is on how to resolve inter tribal disputes where each tribe has different ideas about what is right, just and fair. For example disputes between a collectivist based society and one organized on neoliberal principles.

Green's main point is that the (often subconscious) mechanisms that we have evolved to handle local (inter tribal) conflicts do not work at the intra tribal level, and that for these we need to adopt a cognitive based meta-morality. This he suggests should be based on utilitarianism, because maximising happiness is something that most of us can agree on as a common goal.

I did not find his arguments in favour of utilitarianism totally convincing, but to be fair to Green he is aware of the criticisms that can be made of it. He puts utilitarianism forward not as the universal solution to all moral questions, but as the most pragmatic tool available for resolving conflicting between tribes as what is the most moral outcome.

For another (more detailed) review I suggest that your see the one on the Amazon.com website with the title: An Interesting Work of Synthesis that Falls a Bit Short.
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on 18 January 2014
A superb summary and fusion of 2,500 years of moral philosophizing and the scientific advances in evolutionary sciene of the past 150 years. Surely, this must represent the conclusions drawn by any thinking person regarding ethical questions in politics? Deep pragmatism as the ultimate philosophy of the Last Man. Steven Pinker has called this 'a landmark in our understanding of morality', and one cannot but agree!

Greene carefully debunks all the false and superficial objections to utilitarianism (most of the time based on misinterpretations of 'extreme case scenarios, such as the so-called 'trolley problem'), as well as the fallacies of the rule worship of deontogical theories. (Eg those still clung to by Haidt and others.)

There is also a nuanced and comprehensive discussion of the scientific advances in evolutionary psychology/ economic psychology of recent years. A must read for all utilitarians and those interested in economic psychology!
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on 6 May 2015
I bought this book as it was in a one day Kindle sale and I am very glad I did. The title is pretty clear in spelling out what the book is about. The basic thesis of the book is that if we all followed pure evolutionary behaviour we would die out, so mankind has evolved ways of establishing how to define right and wrong and to resolve disagreements, thereby enabling us to cooperate together. Dr Greene points out two problems with this. The first is that (similar to the kinds of thinking explained by Daniel Hahnemann and others), some of this is creates a kind of moral autopilot where our instinctive wiring can lead us to intuitive but faulty decisions. Secondly, Greene argues that while the systems we have evolved are better for resolving disagreement within the tribes we are born into, they are less useful for resolving disagreements with a tribe who have completely different moral bases for their code of living. So for example a group who cite the Bible as their authority for judging right and wrong will struggle to reach agreement with a group who only accept the Quran as authoritative. The strength of this book in my view lies in the excellent, clear and unpatronising explanations of difficult moral issues. As a child of the UK public health service, I found the discussion of the so called "Obamacare" issue very interesting, and could almost even understand how a US conservative could believe that it was morally acceptable to leave people to their own devices (but only almost!). Prof Greene is to be applauded for his clarity. My disappointment? I read it on Kindle and was surprised that when at about 55% complete I discovered I had actually reached the end, and that the rest was footnotes and references. More seriously, I felt that the book had laid out the problem masterfully, but only offered some sketchy outline approaches to inter tribe solutions. Nonetheless a great read, and I'd love to read an expanded edition with more discussion of possible solutions.
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on 21 February 2014
As a moral psychologist I study the kind of things discussed in this book, but it is rare to find them presented with such lucidity. This book is not just a learning experience, but a thoroughly enjoyable journey through our minds. Highly recommend.
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