Born good? Babies help unlock the origins of morality
It's a question people have asked for as long as there have been people: are human beings inherently good? Are we born with a sense of morality or do we arrive blank slates, waiting for the world to teach us right from wrong? Or could it be worse? Do we start out nasty, selfish devils, who need our parents, teachers, and religions to whip us into shape?
As we first reported last fall, the only way to know for sure, is to ask a baby. But until recently, it's been hard to persuade them to open up and share their secrets. Enter the baby lab.
This is the creature at the center of the greatest philosophical, moral, and religious debates about the nature of man: the human baby. They don't do much, can't talk, can't write, can't expound at length about their moral philosophies. But does that mean they don't have one? The philosopher Rousseau considered babies "perfect idiots...Knowing nothing," and Yale psychologist Karen Wynn, director of the Infant Cognition Center here, the baby lab, says for most of its history, her field agreed.