The Social Psychology of Morality: Exploring the Causees of Good and Evil

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THE SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF MORALITY: EXPLORING THE CAUSEES OF GOOD AND EVIL. Mario Mikulincer and Phillip R. Shaver (Eds.), Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association, 2012. Pp. 440, Hb.

This book is part of the Herzliya Series on Personality and Social Psychology. The first volume focused upon prosocial behavior and emotions while the second volume focused upon aggression. This volume considers different aspects of the social psychology of morality, especially the less cognitive-rationalistic aspects of morality. Each chapter is based upon lectures and resulting discussions that made up a meeting in Israel recently hosted by Drs. Mikulincer and Shaver. Some of the chapters report research findings and others overview relevant theories and ideas.

Within psychology, the understanding of morality and moral development has been heavily influenced by a cognitive-rationalistic perspective. This volume does not deny the value of such a perspective. But, researchers like Gilligan and Haidt have pointed out that there are several issues that a cognitive-rationalistic perspective cannot handle. First, some moral decisions are made quickly and automatically. Second, moral judgments often seem to be less about seeking truth and more about self-justification. And finally, moral judgments often covary with moral emotions more than conscious reasoning. Thus, this volume mainly focuses upon the more "irrational side" of morality.

The volume is organized into six sections: (1) introduction, (2) basic issues and controversies, (3) motivational and cognitive processes, (4) developmental, personality, and clinical aspects, (5) morality, conflict, and violence, and (6) final synthesis. I found the organization moderately useful. However, several of the individual chapters were spectacular.

Every chapter is relatively short (about 20 pages) and well written. Overall, they seem to represent an excellent overview of some of the most current work that is being done in the psychology of morality. …