What is it that makes humans moral? Here’s a review of a new book that discusses how human societies share the characteristic of taking care of babies co-operatively. This is unlike other primates who cling to their offspring and do not trust other members of their social group to look after their young.
In the view of the primatologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, the extraordinary social skills of an infant are at the heart of what makes us human. Through its ability to solicit and secure the attentive care not just of its mother but of many others in its sensory purview, a baby promotes many of the behaviors and emotions that we prize in ourselves and that often distinguish us from other animals, including a willingness to share, to cooperate with strangers, to relax one’s guard, uncurl one’s lip and widen one’s pronoun circle beyond the stifling confines of me, myself and mine.
One wonders what this means in the context of our cities where people are having fewer children.
Jonah Lehrer also comments on this topic of babies and morality in his blog:
I’m just so charmed by the hypothesis that human morality – this system of behaviors so often attributed to the Ten Commandments, Kant, etc. – might actually be rooted in the cries and smiles of infants. Babies, in this sense, are the glue that keeps us together – they are so charming that we’re nice to each other (or at least we don’t hurt each other) for their sake. Religion may have helped codify morality – and one shouldn’t underestimate the importance of turning our vague instincts into an explicit set of laws – but our moral emotions existed long before Moses got those stone tablets on Mt. Sinai.