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  • Keywords
    • Morality,
    • Religion,
    • Neuroscience,
    • Game theory,
    • Psychology,
    • Evolution,
    • Anthropology

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Morality: A Natural History
by Roger V. Moseley

What is morality and what is the source of our moral ideas? Philosophers have explored these questions for centuries, suggesting that both emotion and reason play roles but failing to explain how and why Homo sapiens developed these ideas. Author Roger Moseley argues that evolutionary forces that optimize human welfare provide the missing explanation. Morality: A Natural History presents a multi-disciplinary analysis of the topic and reveals a common thread among the seemingly diverse fields of religion, neuroscience, experimental psychology and game theory, child development, evolution and animal behavior, and anthropology and sociology. When humans first appeared, a simple self-interested survival morality sufficed. As societies became more complex, however, rules of behavior became necessary to limit conflict and promote cooperation. The brain evolved, producing language that allowed the articulation of moral ideas which were codified and enforced by religion and social forces. No species lasts forever, and it is at our peril today that we neglect those evolved moral values of cooperation, altruism, truthfulness, and empathy. Rooted in scientific evidence and interspersed with personal anecdotes and humorous observations, Moseley provides a unique perspective on the natural history of morality – how it appeared, evolved, and continues to evolve today. Morality: A Natural History is essential reading for academics and laypersons alike who seek to understand the origin and essence of human morality.

"This work expands morality beyond notions of it within traditional religious teachings; its conclusions apply to all people, and its utilitarian perspective recognizes the necessity of compromises. Here, morality is about searching for the best way to live with courage and authenticity. Traditional materials are employed in interesting ways to tease out and support the book’s ideas. Altruism is creatively examined through game theory, for example, tying it to ethical experiments such as the prisoner’s dilemma to show that self-interest sometimes results in unexpected, good choices.... A wide-ranging, organized, cohesive statement about what morality means, Morality is a thought-provoking text." —Jeremiah Rood, 4/5-star Foreword Clarion Review "The author explores an impressively broad swath of intellectual territory over the course of his book, as he looks at how neuroscience, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology, among other disciplines, made contributions to moral theory. [...] An accessible entry to how scientific advances brought a measure of clarity to moral discourse. Overall, Moseley’s work is lucid, sensible, and ultimately a worthwhile read [...]. A thoughtful and readable introduction to a complex subject." - Kirkus Reviews “... a fascinating and profound reflection on the natural history of the idea of morality.” — Stanley N. Katz, Professor, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University; Director, Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies; President Emeritus, American Council of Learned Societies; National Humanities Medal, 2010 “... an evidence-based synthesis of recent research in areas as diverse as neuroscience and infant behavior. Moseley’s graceful and lucid writing should make the book accessible to general readers, while appealing to those who may already have thought about the nature and origins of morality.” —Evelyn M. Witkin, Barbara McClintock Professor of Genetics, Emerita, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; 2002 recipient of the National Medal of Science “The concept of morality poses questions that span many fields... Each expert brings a narrow specialist focus to these questions. It takes an intelligent broad-ranging outsider to see the concept as a whole, and integrate the specialized perspectives. Roger Moseley gives us exactly that in this rigorously researched, lucidly written and highly readable book.” —Avinash Dixit, Sherrerd University Professor of Economics, Emeritus, Princeton University “Moseley presents a wise selection of ideas and supporting arguments, ranging from outright science to humanistic insights and implications. He writes with enticing clarity and persuasive logic.” —Henry S. Horn, Emeritus Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University.

Roger V. Moseley photo

Roger V. Moseley received an A.B. with Highest Honors in Chemistry from Princeton University and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. Following military service, where he was awarded a Bronze Star for his service as a combat surgeon in the U.S. Army Surgical Research Team in Vietnam, Moseley became Chief of General Surgery at the Medical Center of Princeton. Moseley is the author of many articles in surgical and scientific literature, and served as a physician to high-altitude climbing expeditions on four continents. Now retired from surgical practice and mountaineering, Moseley continues to serve on the Medical Ethics Committee of the Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center and travels frequently, often with family including ten grandchildren. He welcomes spirited discussions on the origin of the universe, the meaning of life and any other topic best enjoyed over a cool pint of beer with friends.


Roger V. Moseley

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