Read this review at Publishers Weekly
Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good
Mark Matousek, Doubleday, $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-385-52789-7
Matousek (Sex Death Enlightenment) makes a case for why human beings are inherently ethical creatures in a provocative book that suffers from uneven execution. Wired from birth with “mirror neurons” that function involuntarily, and cause us, for instance, to tear up when others cry: “Emotions, not reason,” Matousek asserts, “are the bedrock of ethical life.” Drawing on philosophy, neurological and psychiatric research, anthropology, pop psychology, and mysticism, he debunks the belief that organized religion is a necessary framework for an ethical sense, and demonstrates that moral behavior evolves out of a complex interaction between our built-in empathy for those we identify as like ourselves, and the way we respond (or don’t respond) to the supposedly abstract suffering of those we deem as “other.” In the hands of an Oliver Sacks, this braiding of the scientific, moral, and anecdotal could be revelatory; Matousek, however, repeatedly substitutes opinions and inferences for fact, sapping his argument’s credibility and his reader’s patience.