Friday, March 04, 2011

Social Animal 5: The Main Point

The main point of David Brooks' The Social Animal is that our emotions and connections with others are the core of our being; the conscious, reasoning parts of our beings are better understood as servants of that core than masters.

Moral reasoning does not lead to moral behavior. Instead, we are more guided by intuition than reason. Our intuitions have supremacy but not dictatorship. We can encourage good moral habits, and sometimes we can consciously direct our actions even despite our moral responses, though it takes much work.

To be more moral, our best help is to interact more, to be more social, not to reason more. Our social interactions lead us to become part of institutions, which we did not build. When we inherit institutions, we feel like debtors to them and want to be stewards of our inheritance.

I will give Brooks the last word:

“The cognitive revolution demonstrated that human beings emerge out of relationships. The health of a society is determined by the health of those relationships, not by the extent to which it maximizes individual choice.”


Pastor Dennis said...

I hope I get time to read this book. As to relationships and indiviual choice: as a Christian and somewhat a Calvinist I think of our ultimate relationship of covenant with God.

Whit said...

As one who, like Calvin, believes that Man is utterly depraved and wholly dependent on God for salvation, I have trouble with relying upon my own emotions for moral guidance. In fact I am certain that to do so will lead me to sin (more than I do already).

Does Brooks, who I think of more as an economist than a theologian or ethicist, have any criteria for determining when behaviors are moral or not? Or to use his terminology, does he have criteria for determining what is a healthy society?