Our brains were designed for tribal life, for getting along with a select group of others (Us) and for fighting off everyone else (Them). But modern times have forced the world’s tribes into a shared space, resulting in epic clashes of values along with unprecedented opportunities. As the world shrinks, the moral lines that divide us become more salient and more puzzling. We fight over everything from tax codes to gay marriage to global warming, and we wonder where, if at all, we can find our common ground.
A grand synthesis of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, Moral Tribes reveals the underlying causes of modern conflict and lights the way forward. Greene compares the human brain to a dual-mode camera, with point-and-shoot automatic settings (“portrait,” “landscape”) as well as a manual mode. Our point-and-shoot settings are our emotions—efficient, automated programs honed by evolution, culture, and personal experience. The brain’s manual mode is its capacity for deliberate reasoning, which makes our thinking flexible. Point-and-shoot emotions make us social animals, turning Me into Us. But they also make us tribal animals, turning Us against Them. Our tribal emotions make us fight—sometimes with bombs, sometimes with words—often with life-and-death stakes.
An award-winning teacher and scientist, Greene directs Harvard University’s Moral Cognition Lab, which uses cutting-edge neuroscience and cognitive techniques to understand how people really make moral decisions. Combining insights from the lab with lessons from decades of social science and centuries of philosophy, the great question of Moral Tribes is this: How can we get along with Them when what they want feels so wrong to Us?
Ultimately, Greene offers a set of maxims for navigating the modern moral terrain, a practical road map for solving problems and living better lives. Moral Tribes shows us when to trust our instincts, when to reason, and how the right kind of reasoning can move us forward.
A major achievement from a rising star in a new scientific field, Moral Tribes will refashion your deepest beliefs about how moral thinking works and how it can work better.
©2013 Joshua D. Greene (P)2013 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved. Excerpt from “My Favorite Things,” music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. © 1959 by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Copyright renewed. Williamson Music owner of publication and allied rights throughout the world. International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
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Critic reviews

“Moral Tribes is a masterpiece—a landmark work brimming with originality and insight that also happens to be wickedly fun to read. The only disappointing thing about this book is that it ends.” -Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology, Harvard University; author of the international bestseller Stumbling on Happiness
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Musical Truth on 28-09-14

A tough long listen. Like chewing on gristle.

Would you try another book written by Joshua Greene or narrated by Mel Foster?

I don't think I could stomach another Mel Foster narration. His diction was clear and he had a constant intonation that was not monotone but ultimately it was dead. I empathise with Joshua Greene's viewpoints as they are finally revealed but I doubt I would try anything else by him.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

It was pretty dull all the way through.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

The diction was clear and consistent but there was no passion for the content. Very occasionally the intonation or rhythm betrayed the fact that this was being professionally recorded.

Was Moral Tribes worth the listening time?

God no. It was like pulling teeth.

Any additional comments?

It felt like Mr Greene was trying to appeal to right wing republicans with his use of their intellectually derelict catch phrases. Speaking of the low paid, poor, sick and disabled as 'the foolish and lazy' without qualification until very near the end.

The conclusions - particularly in reference to rights - were inconsistent with the actual point of the 14 hour diatribe of rationalist moralisation. Many sweeping statements such as 'nobody wants to suffer' are not backed up with hard evidence. What about the Buddhist monk who sits in extreme cold, religious zealots who fast, walk in bare feet, crawl on hands and knees around mountains, blow themselves up, flog themselves. How about the native american sun dance festival? Many hedonistic activities lead to suffering too. I can think of countless examples where people cause themselves suffering deliberately or otherwise.

Many of these people are not trying to achieve 'happiness' but something more - usually a shift in consciousness that changes perception and experience. People who chase happiness invariably bring suffering upon themselves in one form or another. Yes, this may mean an experience with a higher quality but happiness is the wrong term. Any passing understanding of Buddhism or even Catholicism could illustrate this.

The book misses this point entirely. It was like watching a fly with no wings dancing in circles. This sort of approach to trying to resolve the tribal clashes we currently see being enacted will do absolutely nothing to help. The ultimate message was 'let's put our differences aside and just get along', '...lets all just be utilitarian and pragmatic.' It is both patronising and stale. Mr Greene is clearly an intelligent man but I felt his application of the disaster of common sense completely misses the mark on what the real issues are. Man cannot live by bread alone.

It is illogical to spend so much time analysing and rationalising over imaginary scenarios and yet to say we don't need to try and properly understand and define happiness because we all know what it means and we all know that we all know what it means.A more in depth anthropological investigation may reveal to Mr Greene that some cultures do not operate on the same conscious level as western democracy and that the assumption that western democracy is the pinnacle of human development is not only wrong but the very reason the world is becoming more dangerous.

These assumptions create the us and them. I seriously wonder how much time Mr Greene has really spent immersed in other cultures and countries. Mr Greene also marginalises and berates viewpoints that differ from his own on several occasions. While I agree with his opinion he is not using a pragmatic non tribalist approach. He is in fact very tribal and aggressive with his language against those he fundamentally disagrees with.The point that some people earn 100 times plus more than others and that nobody can possibly believe that they work 100 times harder than someone else is an important one. This is what the book should have been about.

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5 of 6 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Annika on 18-01-14

A landmark

This is a book that was waiting to be written! A superb discussion of the last 2,500 years of moral theory fused with the recent findings in evolutionary psychology. The ultimate moral stance of the thinking Last Man, and a must listen for all utilitarians! Extraordinary, and beats Haidt, Sam Harris and others by miles.

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1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Douglas on 29-01-14

An Exceedingly Interesting...

study in the grounds--both reasonable and unreasonable, beneficial and destructive--that we have for gathering together into groups...which seem to end up somehow inevitably pitted against some "other." Cliques, clubs, organizations, political parties, cults, class-systems, and...teams. I have a story that relates very well to this book. I live near Seattle. "WE" (the Seahawks--I don't play, mind you, and I don't even watch, though I find myself included somehow) are playing the Broncos (hereafter "THEM") in the Superbowl next week. Some years ago, I bought a Broncos hat to wear to the barn when I interact with my horse--I hate football, and I bought the hat because it has a horse on it. (Witness my avatar photo above.) I have grown attached to the hat. I have also been threatened and taunted by Seahawks fan-atic-s for wearing it in public, and greeted heartily by strangers in stores from Denver who mistake me for a fellow Colorado "WE..." At present, I continue to wear the hat to the barn, but not if I need to run into the store afterward. And, if the Seahawks win on Sunday, I think maybe I will be able to wear it publicly in say, a year or so...if the Broncos win...I will never be safe wearing it again. (I had a student once actually physically assaulted for wearing a NY Yankees cap into a Seattle bar.) All this has made me aware of one thing: Nazi Germany is easy to understand once you get this element of human nature: we too often need someone to hate in order to feel decently about ourselves. The Nazis had the same mentality as football fanatics--or any other group fanatic. They just had a lot more freedom to persecute the "THEM."

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31 of 33 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Client Amazon on 25-05-14

A supremely enlightening view of moral philosophy

What did you love best about Moral Tribes?

I have read tens of philosophy books, but this is the one that made me feel the most enlightened after reading it. It helped clear away the cosy rationalizations of tribal moralities that I self-righteously indulge in, like every one else, and it does not claim to replace those by another absolute moral truth. At the same time, after demonstrating the hopeless relativity of moral emotions, Joshua Greene does fully acknowledge their worth as an "automatic mode".

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

A scientific understanding of the dual processes at work in moral decision-making leads to a reappraisal of the much-maligned utilitatrian viewpoint as the only realistic inter-tribal "moral common currency"

Which scene was your favorite?

The little fable told at the beginning is nice, but you definitely shoul reread it after completing the book.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

This is a book you have to think over, I read it twice and will certainly read it again.

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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