A "Moral Minds" preview

Nick Wade has an article about Marc Hauser's book, "Moral Minds" that reviews the basic ideas and contextualizes them:

Primatologists like Frans de Waal have long argued that the roots of human morality are evident in social animals like apes and monkeys. The animals' feelings of empathy and expectations of reciprocity are essential behaviors for mammalian group living and can be regarded as a counterpart of human morality.
Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist, has built on this idea to propose that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution. In a new book, "Moral Minds" (HarperCollins 2006), he argues that the grammar generates instant moral judgments which, in part because of the quick decisions that must be made in life-or-death situations, are inaccessible to the conscious mind.

Wade draws the parallel with Chomsky's "Universal Grammar" model for language.

What doesn't come out in the article is the likely avenues of critique. For one thing, Universal Grammar has its share of detractors, many of whom have coalesced toward an alternative model, the "constructivist" model of language learning. Universal Grammar supposes that children come "pre-imprinted" to some extent with grammar rules, which are pared down or chosen in response to the linguistic environment that children experience. In contrast, constructivist accounts of language learning hold that children learn language rules from the environment directly, without pre-existing inborn mechanisms.

Of course, there is an obvious constructionist hypothesis for the development of moral sense in children: culture. There is no question that we learn many things about morality from our cultures, and it is plain that moral beliefs vary among different cultures. So Hauser's "moral grammar" hypothesis amounts to the idea that some aspects of morality (a) preceded cultural learning of moral sense in human evolutionary history, or (b) supersede the cultural learning of moral sense, or both.

I'll have to read the book to see if there is any reason to support either of those claims.