The moral philosopher and author Robert Wright recently wrote a brilliant essay in the Atlantic on the difficulty of establishing universal standards of morality. It’s a review of Joshua Greene’s new book, Moral Tribes (which I haven’t read). But more generally, it’s a discussion about how we as human beings can best agree on a universal code of morality towards resolving conflict and improving our collective lives.
As Wright summarizes, Greene argues for a utilitarian approach to a global morality based on rationality and reason. But Wright argues that this is easier said than done; evolution has designed our brains to act ethically and cooperatively within our tribes, but not necessarily outside of those tribes. This means that we all may use rational thinking to arrive at very disparate conclusions about what is right and what is wrong, based on our own identities and tribal allegiances.
What struck me about Wright’s essay in particular is what he prescribes for us to transcend our provincial, tribalistic tendencies when defining morality: meditation. He notes that meditation is proven to help human beings efface their selfish natures and feel empathy for others. In that sense, it makes sense as a way for human beings to collectively agree on what is right and wrong, without selfishly bending our own rational thought processes in favor of our own groups.