I spent 365 days attempting to answer the question: What is goodness? Since I completed that quest on June 1, I’ve been bumbling around trying to figure out what to do next. My year-long journey was wonderful. Challenging, fun, intellectually exciting, and in the end, it did enable me to form my first theory of goodness. Looking back, I think it’s rather grandiose to call that a theory; it’s actually more of a hunch of mine — that goodness is a skill. But I did do what I set out to do, and for that, I am pleased.
But my teeth itch. Something’s not quite right here.
The August issue of The Progressive Magazine is out now, and it includes my essay, “Was My Father Evil?” My essay is not available online, so go forth and purchase an old-fashioned hard copy of the thing. Tell them Diane sent you. Meanwhile, their website does have an interesting excerpt from an interview with writer and war correspondent Chris Hedges.
This blog doesn’t usually keep track of news, but I did want to note that Psychology Professor Marc Hauser has resigned from Harvard. Hauser is the morality researcher who has been accused of scientific misconduct, and I covered the investigation in earlier posts. The New York Times discusses some of the pros and cons of Harvard’s investigation into Hauser and notes that the university still hasn’t released its results. AAAS Science Insider gives a good brief overview of Hauser’s importance and the investigation and links to Hauser’s resignation letter.
I can’t judge whether or not Hauser really is a morality researcher who forgot to apply ethics to his own work, or whether or not Harvard did right by him, although some of Harvard’s actions do appear, on the surface, to be unfair. But I can judge his resignation letter. As someone who has worked in communications and ghostwritten these kinds of statements for others, all I can say is that the letter reads as if it were written by someone who has: (a) been told by lawyers to keep quiet about the real issue, or (b) did something wrong and knows it and is resigning because he has to, or (c) reached a financial settlement with his employer, a settlement that requires him to remain silent.
I’ve spent the past year seeking to understand the true heart of good human beings. I’ve asked everybody I could to answer the question: What is goodness? Imagine my surprise when I interviewed MacArthur Fellow Jonathan Shay last week and discovered that goodness may have an aspect I never considered before. A good person, in fact, may be nothing more than a lucky person.
Simon Baron-Cohen argues that evil should be defined as the absence of empathy. In his new book, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, the University of Cambridge professor of developmental psychology proposes replacing the “unscientific term ‘evil’ with the scientific term ’empathy.” New York Times reviewer Katherine Bouton explains:
Google Engineering Director Damon Horowitz tackles the idea of using numbers and science to make ethical decisions and comes up with a delightfully different answer than Sam Harris did in The Moral Landscape. Watching Horowitz’ TED talk, I’m energized and hopeful, which is a far different reaction than the one I had when reading Harris’ book.
So, just when I decide to take a breather from all this goodness work, I stumble into some fascinating items online that must be shared. Stay tuned!