Moralities of everyday life

What is morality? Why do we feel disgust towards certain actions? Does everyone have a different morality? Should we be moral? How should we determine what is the moral thing to do? These and other questions are discussed in the course “Moralities of everyday life“, which can be taken for free in Coursera. The instructor is the wonderful Paul Bloom, Professor in Psychology at Yale. I knew Paul from his recurrent chats with Sam Harris at the Making Sense podcast first, and then from reading his book Against Empathy. But I have rediscovered him as a teacher, and a great one at that.

Bloom starts by introducing two main sides of the morality debate: utilitarians and Kantians. He does not talk much about Aristotle, which one could think of as the “third” camp, although he does mention him. He does a great job of mentioning the shortcomings of both approaches, although he, like me, is more in the utilitarian—or consequentialist—side. He talks about the role of emotions in morality, empathy, psychopathy, evolution of morality, …the course is extraordinarily rich, and I am only in Week 3 of 6.

The readings for the course are very interesting as well. While the lectures mention several scientific studies—I particularly like the one on how inducing disgust via smell leads to judging certain acts as less moral—the readings are more for a general audience. The authors are people such as Steven Pinker (who was his PhD advisor), Sam Harris (his Ted Talk on the Moral Landscape), Jonathan Haidt, Peter Singer, Dan Ariely, Jon Ronson, Richard Dawkins, Robert Wright, or Steve Levitt. All these authors are incredible communicators of science.

I cannot recommend this course enough. The first reason is because it is completely free; the second because some people might have a lot of time now that we can barely leave our homes. But the third and most important one is the need for us, humans, to understand where morality comes from; to understand why we feel outrage, why we see others as enemies; and to learn how to let this feeling subside and think about ethics and morality more rationally.

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