Un bell’articolo di Steven Pinker, che apparirà sull’edizione a stampa del New York Times Magazine di domani («The Moral Instinct», 13 gennaio 2008), fa una rassegna delle ricerche recenti sugli istinti morali, sul ruolo che l’evoluzione ha avuto nel forgiarli, e sull’irrazionalità di molti dei giudizi basati su di essi:
Which of the following people would you say is the most admirable: Mother Teresa, Bill Gates or Norman Borlaug? And which do you think is the least admirable? For most people, it’s an easy question. Mother Teresa, famous for ministering to the poor in Calcutta, has been beatified by the Vatican, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and ranked in an American poll as the most admired person of the 20th century. Bill Gates, infamous for giving us the Microsoft dancing paper clip and the blue screen of death, has been decapitated in effigy in “I Hate Gates” Web sites and hit with a pie in the face. As for Norman Borlaug... who the heck is Norman Borlaug?(Per Pinker, Norman Borlaug è oggettivamente di gran lunga il più ammirabile dei tre, seguito abbastanza da vicino da Bill Gates, mentre Madre Teresa non si qualifica neppure per la gara.)
L’articolo non contiene grandi novità – per esempio, quasi tutti abbiamo già letto delle situazioni immaginarie proposte dallo psicologo Jonathan Haidt:
Julie is traveling in France on summer vacation from college with her brother Mark. One night they decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. Julie was already taking birth-control pills, but Mark uses a condom, too, just to be safe. They both enjoy the sex but decide not to do it again. They keep the night as a special secret, which makes them feel closer to each other. What do you think about that – was it O.K. for them to make love?Ma vale comunque una lettura; e la conclusione di Pinker cancella ogni sospetto di relativismo, che aleggia sempre su questo genere di studi:
A woman is cleaning out her closet and she finds her old American flag. She doesn’t want the flag anymore, so she cuts it up into pieces and uses the rags to clean her bathroom.
A family’s dog is killed by a car in front of their house. They heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dog’s body and cook it and eat it for dinner.
Now, if the distinction between right and wrong is also a product of brain wiring, why should we believe it is any more real than the distinction between red and green? And if it is just a collective hallucination, how could we argue that evils like genocide and slavery are wrong for everyone, rather than just distasteful to us?Peccato che quelli che beneficerebbero di più da articoli come questo siano troppo occupati a leggere e rileggere l’ultima enciclica papale...
Putting God in charge of morality is one way to solve the problem, of course, but Plato made short work of it 2,400 years ago. Does God have a good reason for designating certain acts as moral and others as immoral? If not – if his dictates are divine whims – why should we take them seriously? Suppose that God commanded us to torture a child. Would that make it all right, or would some other standard give us reasons to resist? And if, on the other hand, God was forced by moral reasons to issue some dictates and not others – if a command to torture a child was never an option – then why not appeal to those reasons directly? […]
Two features of reality point any rational, self-preserving social agent in a moral direction. And they could provide a benchmark for determining when the judgments of our moral sense are aligned with morality itself.
One is the prevalence of nonzero-sum games. In many arenas of life, two parties are objectively better off if they both act in a nonselfish way than if each of them acts selfishly. You and I are both better off if we share our surpluses, rescue each other’s children in danger and refrain from shooting at each other, compared with hoarding our surpluses while they rot, letting the other’s child drown while we file our nails or feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys. Granted, I might be a bit better off if I acted selfishly at your expense and you played the sucker, but the same is true for you with me, so if each of us tried for these advantages, we’d both end up worse off. Any neutral observer, and you and I if we could talk it over rationally, would have to conclude that the state we should aim for is the one in which we both are unselfish. These spreadsheet projections are not quirks of brain wiring, nor are they dictated by a supernatural power; they are in the nature of things.
The other external support for morality is a feature of rationality itself: that it cannot depend on the egocentric vantage point of the reasoner. If I appeal to you to do anything that affects me – to get off my foot, or tell me the time or not run me over with your car – then I can’t do it in a way that privileges my interests over yours (say, retaining my right to run you over with my car) if I want you to take me seriously. Unless I am Galactic Overlord, I have to state my case in a way that would force me to treat you in kind. I can’t act as if my interests are special just because I’m me and you’re not, any more than I can persuade you that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe just because I happen to be standing on it.
Aggiornamento: Maurizio Colucci ha meritoriamente cominciato a tradurre l’articolo di Pinker qui.