November Selection: Moral Minds by Marc D Hauser

At our November meeting we will discuss the following book suggested by Richard Smaby:

Marc D Hauser, Moral Minds: How Nature Designed our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, originally published in hardcover by HarperCollins, 2006.


About Ron Boothe

I am a Professor Emeritus at Emory University, currently living in Tacoma Washington USA.
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6 Responses to November Selection: Moral Minds by Marc D Hauser

  1. Neil Bergeson says:

    This morning at our Friday coffee mention was made of disgraceful charges against Marc Hauser, author of our upcoming book. Being completely unaware, but curious, I did a google search. He was accused of eight instances of scientific misconduct. A fairly complete description of all this by Charles Gross can be found at, including a discussion of what constitutes ‘scientific misconduct’. While most of these charges concerned possible fabrication of experimental data unrelated to Moral Minds, plagiarism apparently was thought to be involved in his writing of this book. Gross covers this pretty well but, as noted in his article, further discussion by Gilbert Harmon of Princeton can be found at .

    I’m unconvinced that this necessarily diminishes Hauser’s writing for us but, while I’m disappointed to learn of it, I thought the issue needed to be a part if our conversation, and the earlier the better.


  2. Richard Smaby says:

    I also was not aware of Hauser’s misdeeds. They raise an interesting question. Can the book stand on its own? I am definitely affected by his falsification of research data. I have lost trust in Hauser and will redouble my scrutiny of his arguments. Maybe that is for the better.

    Most of Hauser’s book we are reading simply assembles others’ work. It is a popularization. I looked at Mikhail’s book. It is clearly a scholarly work. And a better book. I find Hauser’s book sloppy in the use of key terms, like ‘principle.’ However, I think that Hauser’s book is probably more readable as an introduction to the ideas of Rawls.


  3. Ron Boothe says:

    Article in NYT this morning regarding fraud in science in China seems pertinent to this issue.

    “Fraudulent research and faked peer reviews have led to a humiliating setback for China’s goal of becoming a global leader in scientific research.”

    Read More:

    Don’t want to swamp discussion of content/ideas in Moral Minds with ancillary discussion of fraud in science, but don’t think it will be possible to discuss this book without including that topic. Perhaps put discussion on 2 parallel tracks: 1) The ideas and theories discussed in the book. 2) What are the implications of the revelations that some of what is presented in the book was plagiarized and/or fraudulent?

    And for our literary types, seems like a pretty interesting topic of irony here!

  4. Richard Smaby says:

    I had hoped that Moral Minds would lead us to reflect on our own personal choices and how we make them. But clearly the information about Hauser’s bad choices reveals an important application of the Principles and Parameters theory. (How exactly requires some careful thought.)

  5. Richard Smaby says:

    Here is a readable informal history of fraud in science.

  6. David Gilmour says:

    How disconcerting all this criticism is of ideas most of us have not yet encountered, at least I haven’t since my Hauser’s book is still on order.
    Before Mikhail and Hauser truly got into the news with their academic works, I recalled an essay of the sociobiologist, E.O. Wilson, in Atlantic “The Bilological Basis of Morality.” I happened to have copied it many years ago (17 or so), and coincidentally noticed it in my saved articles just before I came to Idaho. (I now kick myself for not bringing it with me.) Perhaps Richard’s preview of Hauser’s work, originally brought up a month or so ago, triggered my wonder what Wilson’s exposition was about; Rawlsian thought was definitely included in it. The reason I saved the Wilson paper, nearly two decades ago, was that I knew I’d have to read it several times to remember it or even “get” the point of it. It stayed in my archived copies, unread.
    Now I have searched for it online, I see “The Biological Basis of Morality” is available in two parts, from 1998 Atlantic archives. Available by Googling “E.O.Wilson” and the title above, it may be a primer on the Hauser Moral Minds thesis. Rawls’ Theory of Justice is brought up in part one. I don’t know how dense Hauser’s work is at present–I suspect it will be for me a too-deep read–but if you have time for another related work–other than the disputed plagiarized work of Mikhail or the accounts of the Hauser scandal–perhaps some introductory material can be found in Wilson’s popular journal essay. –David

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