We are born to care. According to research, even infants have a sense of what is fair. As we mature, our everyday conversations are interwoven with ethical considerations, about ourselves and about others. Much of the media we interact with is driven by moral outrage and controversy. Is this or that behavior decent, acceptable, criminal, or perverse?
For a social animal, this impulse, this justice sensitivity, has an evolutionary basis. Living in large groups of unrelated individuals, a shared commitment to fairness facilitates cooperation.
But does the growing field of research into the neuroscience of good and evil tell us anything about how we got here? For example, can it offer any insight into things like increasing authoritarianism, and wealth inequality?
For a moment, let’s look past polarizing stories about how prisons and police are inevitable or not, necessary or not, a blessing or not. Rather than asking whether surveillance, deterrents, and punishment maintain a...