Philosopher Jesse Prinz spoke on how the multiplicity of morality across cultures complicates the notion of the common good at the Jepson Alumni Center as part of The Jepson Leadership Forum 2009- 10 Season on “The Common Good.”

Appointed Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2009, Prinz works primarily in the philosophy of psychology, studying how the mind works. He examines the nature of the concept of good, arguing that it cannot be expressed simply as a set of objective standards or a projection of individual preferences, but rather exists as a combination of the two. Prinz has authored several related works, including Furnishing the Mind (2002), Gut Reactions (2004) and The Emotional Construction of Morals (2007). He holds a doctoral degree from the University of Chicago.

"Morality is not a single thing," Prinz said, "not a shared human universal, but rather something that works itself out in different ways in different groups."

He used historical and anthropological evidence during his lecture to show that human societies do not revolve around a shared stock of values, but vary on almost every imaginable dimension. He spoke on the change in morals over time regarding controversial issues such as cannibalism, slavery, foot-binding and incest. The growth of a society’s knowledge was rarely the catalyst for a change in morality surrounding these issues.

"I don’t think that moral differences ultimately trade on differences in factual beliefs," he said. "I don’t think morality is ultimately a matter of reasoning, I think it’s about emotion."

"I think we should give up on this idea of common good, and instead we should focus on principles like tolerance, and the idea of self criticism, and the ultimate prospect of self improvement."

Watch the video of Jesse Prinz’s speech here

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