THE MORAL SENSE by James Q. Wilson


Email this review


 A slow-paced but utterly intriguing examination of the development of the ``moral sense'' that governs human conduct in all cultures and times. Wilson (Management and Public Policy/UCLA; On Character, 1991, etc.) contends that most modern sociologies and psychologies are flawed insofar as they maintain that there's no such thing as an identifiable ``human nature'' that will develop under most circumstances without external coercion. The legal theories of John Rawls, the political agendas of Marx and Lenin, and much of Freudian psychology were organized around this idea--which Wilson claims to be demonstrably false. Basing his own theory upon a large body of experimental research, Wilson holds that the development of empathy, conscience, and altruism is a natural process that takes place as an inevitable response to the contradictions of childhood socialization. ``We learn to cope with the people of this world,'' Wilson says, ``because we learn to cope with the members of our family.'' The family is the crucial element in the process, and Wilson points to the weakening of the family bond as the root of most of today's social dysfunctionalism. Parts of his argument- -particularly his pessimism regarding the effects of nonmaternal child care--will be a provocation to orthodox feminists, but there's nothing doctrinaire or simplistic in Wilson's critique of our current wisdoms. (His extensive notes and bibliography will be useful to scholars interested in the field.) Dry and overly anecdotal at times, but Wilson manages to take sociology out of the realm of theory without reducing it to policy. A refreshing and timely work.

Pub Date: July 12th, 1993
ISBN: 0-02-935405-6
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1993


NonfictionUNDERSTANDING AMERICA by Peter H.  Schuck
by Peter H. Schuck
NonfictionMORAL JUDGMENT by James Q. Wilson
by James Q. Wilson
NonfictionON CHARACTER by James Q. Wilson
by James Q. Wilson


IndieTHE MEAT HUNTER by Megan Allen
by Megan Allen