Monday, January 21, 2008

The Moral Instinct

Steven Pinker had an essay, The Moral Instinct, in the New York Times a week ago which I have just got around to reading.

It is good reading for prompting questions and discussion. If you have a young adult in the household, with their finally attuned instincts for questioning the order of things and particularly the iniquity of parentally imposed moral structures, this is a nice essay for neutral common discussion.

I was also interested to see how some of the points he makes tie into a number of the axioms articulated in last weeks' Pigeon Post essay In Praise of Bad Books.

And how does this relate to children's books? Between this essay on The Moral Instinct, Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and a couple of other books I am reading at the moment, I am becoming more and more intrigued by the idea of the importance of imagination as a root capability. The ability to sympathize with others is in part dependant upon our capacity to put (imagine) ourselves in the circumstances of another. Our ability to plan ahead is just another mask of imagination, for what is planning but the imagination of what is likely to happen (both necessary actions and possible consequences)?

In children's literature we often think of imagination in its manifestation as creativity. But I wonder if children's stories, in their capacity of nurturing imagination, don't play an even more important role by building up those other attributes that are so critical such as empathy, anticipation, comprehension of consequences, etc.

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