Are we all fundamentally the same?
Wow, I haven't blogged for ages! I feel I should rectify this…
I stumbled upon Iyobosa's entry again today about edge.org's annual question. In it he refers to a previous entry he made about last years' question:
What do you believe in that we cannot prove?
One response was from Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University who said that she thought:
All people have the same fundamental concepts, values, concerns, and commitments… our common conceptual and moral commitments spring from the core cognitive systems that allow an infant to grow rapidly and spontaneously into a competent participant in any human society.
Several years ago I would have agreed with this view, but my recent experiences have begun to change my mind. I spent a year working in a relatively rough state Community College and some of the children I met were, according to the generally-held moral concepts of society, completely lacking. I've seen many children lie about things they know their teachers have just seen them do, viciously pick on their peers and their seniors, show no respect for any other person (including their families) and repeatedly subvert the rules of our society. Some of the worst of these kids seemed to do these things with absolutely no remorse.
So I ask:
- Do we all have an innate sense of right and wrong and of moral responsibility?
- Can this sense of responsibility be subverted by the conditions in which we are brought up?
- How do we account, for example, for extreme criminals who refuse to admit, particularly to themselves, that their crimes were wrong?