Bioethics Blogs

Michael Tomasello, A Natural History of Human Morality, Harvard University Press, 2016

The dust jacket to A Natural History of Human Morality advertises “the most detailed account to date of the evolution of human moral psychology.” Reading this description, you might expect a hefty, multi-volume work filled with mitochondrial maps, genotype to fitness landscapes, and appendix after appendix of experimental results. Thankfully, you will find none of these things within this slim, breezy, 163-page monograph. What you will find could be better described as an “introduction” or an “outline” to an ongoing research program, which may very well become the “the most detailed account…of the evolution of human moral psychology” that we can hope for. But the greatest virtue of A Natural History of Human Morality, to my mind, is its merciful lack of detail. Tucked between its narrow covers is a simple yet engaging story about the emergence of a new kind of cooperation among upright apes, which we call “morality.”

With its welcomed brevity and immanent readability, this book can be enjoyed by just about anyone. However, it will probably appeal most to readers who have neither the time nor the background to keep up with the many articles that Michael Tomasello publishes every year, but who want to find out what all the hubbub is about. If you’ve never read a book on the evolution of morality before, there’s no better place to begin. For those of you who have kept up with Tomasello’s work over the years, you’ll find little that you don’t already know, but you will walk away with a clearer understanding of what he’s up to and where his project is headed.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.