The science of good and evil

May 13, 2012

The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity

What if there was a substance that could make us generous and loving, without which we become cruel and greedy? In his new book “The Moral Molecule,” neuroeconomist Paul Zak introduces us to oxytocin, a brain chemical that triggers compassion.

With a team of researchers, Zak took blood from thousands of test subject from all walks of life in a variety of circumstances. When Zak artificially boosted levels of oxytocin, people were more caring, more giving and less likely to cheat. He also found that merely acting in a trusting manner triggered the body’s own production of oxytocin, creating what Zak refers as the ultimate virtuous cycle.

But the discovery of the “moral molecule” doesn’t mean that philosophers and theologians are out of business but only that any conversation about virtue and free will must take brain chemistry and physiology into consideration.

Given Zak’s discovery, would it be moral to chemically alter people to make them more loving and generous? What is the role of religion and philosophy in our lives if we are governed more by chemistry and less by our own will?


Paul Zak, author of “The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity” (Dutton)

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