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Over at Slate , Howard Gardner of Harvard University reviews Dacher Keltner’s Born to Be Good . In his book, Keltner argues that “human beings have survived as a species, and have gained dominion over the planet, because we have managed to control our most destructive and hostile impulses and instead have been rewarded for protecting one another, helping one another, being kind to one another.” Taking this argument to its logical conclusion would mean that evolution has, in a sense, “wired” us to do good. This is, needless to say, a novel take on genetic determinism, turning “survival of the fittest” into a “survival of the kindest.” Refreshingly, Gardner sees the problem here and knows that science can’t account for morality, let alone free will:

The book that I would have chosen to read has the title Born To Be Good or Bad . Its chapters would have titles like “Cain and Abel,” “Hitler and Gandhi,” “Mandela and Milosevic.” And that is because I don’t think that we are born with a tendency toward good or evil. Nor do I believe that we can derive morality, or immorality, from science. At most, given an agreed-upon definition, we can establish the antecedent conditions that lead to a moral or immoral life, a good or bad pattern of behavior, or, most often, shards of both. How and why and when good and evil behavior arises are human stories, grounded in history and culture. We could know everything there is to know about the genes and the brain of the newborn Hitler, but we could never have predicted what he would do, any more than we could have predicted the life course of Mahatma Gandhi or Joan of Arc or our contemporaries Nelson Mandela and Slobodan Milosevic. To some extent, the choice derives from our parents, our communities, and the particular historical era and cultural group in which we are born and grow up. But in the last analysis, the choice of what to be, and how to be, is ours and ours alone.



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