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Ben Franklin asked, “Is moral perfection achievable?” It is a fact that perfection is only for God and the answer can be found in the article, “The Moral Instinct” by Steven Pinker, an American psychologist born in 1954 in Montreal, Quebec in Canada. He tries to explain that there is a moral sense that varies with culture and lifestyles. Being a professor of psychology at Harvard University, he advocates for explanations of how the human brain evolves which would help in understanding the language and behavior of someone since they are tied to brain functionality. Pinker does psychological research on recognition, human nature, mind, and language and writes for the NY Times, The Atlantic, and The Time. He has substantially contributed to these fields and he has written various books and articles that can help in their understanding. Pinker, in his text “The Moral Instinct,” uses various strategies to try to convince his audiences about the possibility of there being a moral sense that informs decision making. Pinker uses, logos, analogical examples, and hypothetical examples to try to persuade his audiences to subscribe to his ideas that although morality is universal, but it is like any other sense varies because it can be affected by culture, situation, and evolution. Pinker’s text is useful in convincing his target audience since he uses considerably relevant and quality references in his arguments.
Pinker uses logos to claim that moral decisions vary from one culture to another as well as with lifestyle variations. According to a survey done by Shweder & Fiske, moral concerns vary across the globe. The diversity in different cultures around the world and the differences in lifestyles in different groups of people bring the change. “Moral concerns across the globe, they find that a few themes keep popping up from amid the diversity” (Pinker, par. 33). For this quote, Pinker utilizes the use of logical appeal to prove that every culture has its own way of doing things. He explains countries have different reactions about some of the technological advancements. Genetic testing in western countries is a common and normal practice but it has not been well appreciated as a moral practice in the African cultures since it is perceived to be unethical. Interestingly, these advancements are taking space in the counties and gaining moral insight. To improve his logical reasoning further, Pinker states that there are five moral spheres that seem to cut across all the cultures and are ubiquitous. The five spheres that he uses are harm, purity, authority, community, and fairness. His logical reasoning proves that in different cultures, the five generally accepted moral spheres are ranked differently according to their importance in that culture. Pinker claims that it also depends on which of them is brought in place to moralize a section or sector in the society, such as the government, family, and religion. Pinker further uses logos to prove the importance of ranking these spheres and their influence they have on culture. He determines that they influence the American conservatives and liberals who have different opinions and priorities when it comes to moral issues. “Liberals put a lopsided moral weight on harm and fairness while playing down group loyalty, authority and purity. Conservatives instead place a moderately high weight on all five” (Pinker, par. 40). Pinker explains how the different worldviews value different spheres. Pinker uses logos correctly to prove that people are different in some moral sense because they have different beliefs even, they share the principle values of morality. His logical reasoning persuades the reader to believe that ethical decisions vary from one culture to another as well as with lifestyle variations.
Additionally, Pinker uses hypothetical situation to state a form of moral realism that can be combined with the genetic willingness to give morality a universal foundation. This is because there are some moral concerns that are alike and universally accepted as right or wrong. Morality appears early in childhood. Toddlers like to share toys and help other children. According to the psychologists, Turiel, and Smetana, preschoolers’ toddlers have a different response to societal conventions and moral principles. “Four-year-old say that it is not O.K. to wear pajamas to school (a convention) and also not O.K. to hit a little girl for no reason (a moral principle)” (pinker, par. 27). But when they have been asked whether these actions would be O.K. if the teacher allowed them, most of the children said, “Wearing pajamas would now be fine but that hitting a little girl would still not be.” In this evidence, Pinker writes about children’s spontaneous because it shows the innate morality of human. Most children have the same behavior, and this meets Pinker’s idea that morality is universal. Despite, no one has discovered genes for morality, but many studies point that they are existed. According to studying of twins, they find that, “Conscientiousness and agreeableness are far more correlated in identical twins separated at birth than in adoptive siblings raised together” (Pinker, par.28). Some people have a mental disease and, their morality blindness appears when they are children. They bother other children, harm animals, lie, and seem incapable of empathy or remorse, despite their normal family. Some biological problems lead to some immorality behaviors, but usually morality sense is the nature of humans, so it is universal. Pinker affects his audience target by using well-chosen examples to reinforce his claim.
Pinker creates a better understanding of morality by using partial analogy to explain that morality can be switched depending on the subject matter. He uses vegetarians as evidence of the moral switch. According to Rozin study of health vegetarians and moral vegetarians who avoid animal products because of different reasons. “Health vegetarians refuse to eat meat for practical reasons such as cholesterol and digestion problems. Moral vegetarians have their switch flipped because hence their righteous indignation about the use of animal products. “Moral vegetarians avoid meat for ethical reasons to avoid complicity in the suffering of animals” (Pinker, par 11). Pinker appeals to the reasoning of the audience by comparing the though process of the two vegetarians. Also, Pinker chooses another example, the trolley’s dilemma, to explain how there is a reason for moralization switching. Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis view analogical dilemmas. First, “A trolley is hurtling out of control; there are five workers on the track who are going to be killed as the trolley plows into them…. You’re standing at a switch; you can divert the trolley on to a sidetrack. In the sidetrack there’s a single man will be killed. Should you pull the switch? Saving five lives at the cost of one” (Pinker, par.18). In this situation, most people agree and consider it as a moral behavior. Second, the real terms of the problem will change to the following situation, “You’re standing on a bridge overlooking the tracks. You see the trolley hurtling out of control. The only way to stop it is to throw a heavy object in front of the trolley, and the only heavy object available is a fat man… Should you throw him over the tracks?”. (Pinker, par.19). In this case, most people don’t accept killing one in order to save others. In each example, there are two symmetrical terms, but the moral decision is switched. Pinker views the similar and different faces of the vegetarian terms and dilemma terms. Also, he clarifies the reason of that change of moral sense. Because of that, he succeeds to support his claim, and persuade the reader to align with his thought process.
After all, Pinker explains the psychological side of morality by using effective strategies such as logos, and hypothetical situations, and analogical examples to attract the readers toward his opinion. He supports his claims with compelling pieces of evidence and shows a lot of research to gain his audience’s trust. He chooses all effective factors to achieve his purpose. Pinker urges all classes of society to be more open to reconsider the concept of ethics, and he persuades them to use objective analysis of different situations temporally and spatially. In other words, he wants us to be more open before our decision to judge and evaluate the behavior of others. He sends a positive message to people to be better through our moral behavior. Thinking critically about morality is the magic key to the peaceful coexistence of human beings, who can attain moral perfection only in the general principles of morality that everyone agrees on, but full moral perfection is only for God.
Pinker, Steven. “The Moral Instinct.” The New York Times Magazine. The New York Times Company, 13 Jan. 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/magazine/13Psychology-t.html. Accessed 25 Feb 2020.