The Science of Good and Evil

name = The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
author = Michael Shermer
publisher = Henry Holt and Company
release_date = 2004
media_type = Print (hardcover and paperback)
pages = 350
isbn = ISBN 0-8050-7520-8
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Science of Good and Evil" is a book by Michael Shermer on ethics and evolutionary psychology. The book was published in 2004 by Henry Holt and Company under the full title "The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule".


*Prologue: One Long Argument ( [ read an excerpt] )

Part 1: The Origins of Morality

#Transcendent Morality: How Evolution Ennobles Ethics
#:Argues that morality can be transcendent in the sense that all humans share common feelings and behaviors.
#Why We Are Moral: The Evolutionary Origins of Morality
#:Offers an explanation of morality in light of the history of human evolution.
#Why We Are Immoral: War, Violence, and the Ignoble Savage Within
#:Discusses the problem of evil and argues against the idea of the noble savage.
#Master of My Fate: Making Moral Choices in a Determined Universe
#:Relates the problem of free will to moral behavior and accountability.

Part 2: A Science of Provisional Ethics

  1. Can We Be Good Without God?: Science, Religion, and Morality:Discusses the idea that belief in God is necessary for moral behavior.
  2. How We Are Moral: Absolute, Relative, and Provisional Ethics:Covers various ethical systems and their strengths and weaknesses.
  3. How We Are Immoral: Right and Wrong and How to Tell the Difference:Introduces principles by which specific actions can be judged.
  4. Rise Above: Tolerance, Freedom, and the Prospects for Humanity:Looks to the future as a time of greater liberty and friendship for all of humankind.


In discussing Shermer's approach to ethics, a review by Ian Mason in the "National Post" said that he "makes a persuasive case for the Golden Rule as the foundation of morality" but "severely weakens his case by applying the 'scientific' label to all sorts of assertions and concepts that don't warrant it." Mason also said that "This stretching of the proper scope of scientific reasoning is symptomatic of Shermer's approach to systems he wishes to debunk."cite web |url= |title=The Science of Good & Evil |accessdate=2007-03-17 |last=Mason |first=Ian Garrick |publisher=The National Post |date=2004-03-06 ]

In the "College Quarterly", Howard Doughty wrote:

Shermer does not offer a very satisfactory definition of either good or evil. . . . He does, however, occasionally speak eloquently about the ways in which human beings are challenged by moral notions and have generated forceful moral codes . . . He fails, however, to locate morality in any kind of conceptual framework that would allow us to treat moral ideas as anything more than human judgments. There is nothing wrong with this, but such a view is inconsistent with the implication of the book's title, which at least suggests that good and evil are actual axiological categories that exist independent of human opinion.
Doughty concludes that the book is a "very good effort in the popularization of scientific exploration into an inherently contentious subject". [cite journal |last=Doughty |first=Howard A |title=The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule |date=Summer 2006 |journal= [ The College Quarterly] |volume=9 |issue=3 |url= |accessdate=2007-03-17 ]

Release details

* 350 pages.


External links

* [ The Science of Good and Evil] excerpt of the book on author's website

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