The Kindness of Strangers: How a Selfish Ape Invented a New Moral Code

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Basic Books, 2020 - PHILOSOPHY - 358 pages
"This book is about one of the great zoological wonders of the world. No, it's not about the tears of the elephant, the smile of the dolphin, or the politics of the chimpanzee. It is about a scrawny, brainy ape with the habit of helping strangers, at times even risking life and limb to do so. It's about you and me, and how we treat everybody else. In short, it answers one of the biggest questions science has ever faced: Why do we give a damn about the welfare of strangers? Ever since Darwin, a legion of social scientists, biologists, and other scholars have attempted to explain human morality in terms of evolutionary biology-in on our modern parlance, they have looked for altruism in our genes. And yet, whether they subscribe to kin selection or group selection or something in between, they have failed to explain where morality comes from or how it works. In The Kindness of Strangers, psychologist Michael McCullough offers a new answer: Looking for morality in our biology is a mistake, and morality, like any new technology, had to be discovered, refined, and adopted. Moving through a broad swath of both human history as well as evolutionary and psychology science, McCullough shows how from the days of hunter-gatherers to the first farming villages to today's "golden age of compassion," major milestones, including the Golden Rule, naturalistic explanations for disaster, or the impulse to charitable giving, are neither integral to our species nor inevitable outcomes of human development. Like all great human achievements-whether science, art, engineering, or literature-they were discoveries. Yes, they emerge from our psychological endowments and history, of course, but they required investigation, insight, and experimentation to be brought to fruition. A major new work from one of the leading lights of social psychology, The Kindness of Strangers upsets decades of fruitless consensus in the social sciences. Going far beyond Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformation or Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Kindness of Strangers shows not just what happened in the history of human moral development, but the collision of evolutionary, psychological, and historical factors that drove it. And unlike Robert Wright's The Moral Animals, this book doesn't claim that we are good or inevitably getting better-and indeed, to the contrary, shows not just where our moral sense comes from, but how easy it would be to lose it. But like all of those, this book will prove a work to be read, debated, and read again, for years to come"--

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