The Science of Good and Evil

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The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
Author Michael Shermer
Publisher Henry Holt and Company
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages 350
ISBN ISBN 0-8050-7520-8
OCLC 52704770
Preceded by Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?
Followed by Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown

The Science of Good and Evil is a book by Michael Shermer on ethics and evolutionary psychology. The book was published in 2004 by Henry Holt and Company under the full title The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule.


Part 1: The Origins of Morality[edit]

  1. Transcendent Morality: How Evolution Ennobles Ethics
    Argues that morality can be transcendent in the sense that all humans share common feelings and behaviors.
  2. Why We Are Moral: The Evolutionary Origins of Morality
    Offers an explanation of morality in light of the history of human evolution.
  3. Why We Are Immoral: War, Violence, and the Ignoble Savage Within
    Discusses the problem of evil and argues against the idea of the noble savage.
  4. Master of My Fate: Making Moral Choices in a Determined Universe
    Relates the problem of free will to moral behavior and accountability.

Part 2: A Science of Provisional Ethics[edit]

  1. Can We Be Good Without God?: Science, Religion, and Morality
    Discusses the idea that belief in God is necessary for moral behavior.
  2. How We Are Moral: Absolute, Relative, and Provisional Ethics
    Covers various ethical systems and their strengths and weaknesses.
  3. How We Are Immoral: Right and Wrong and How to Tell the Difference
    Introduces principles by which specific actions can be judged.
  4. Rise Above: Tolerance, Freedom, and the Prospects for Humanity
    Looks to the future as a time of greater liberty and friendship for all of humankind.


In discussing Shermer's approach to ethics, a review by Ian Mason in the National Post said that he "makes a persuasive case for the Golden Rule as the foundation of morality" but "severely weakens his case by applying the 'scientific' label to all sorts of assertions and concepts that don't warrant it." Mason also said that "This stretching of the proper scope of scientific reasoning is symptomatic of Shermer's approach to systems he wishes to debunk."[1]

In the College Quarterly, Howard Doughty wrote:

Shermer does not offer a very satisfactory definition of either good or evil. . . . He does, however, occasionally speak eloquently about the ways in which human beings are challenged by moral notions and have generated forceful moral codes . . . He fails, however, to locate morality in any kind of conceptual framework that would allow us to treat moral ideas as anything more than human judgments. There is nothing wrong with this, but such a view is inconsistent with the implication of the book's title, which at least suggests that good and evil are actual axiological categories that exist independent of human opinion.

Doughty concludes that the book is a "very good effort in the popularization of scientific exploration into an inherently contentious subject".[2]

Release details[edit]


  1. ^ Mason, Ian Garrick (2004-03-06). "The Science of Good & Evil". The National Post. Retrieved 2007-03-17. 
  2. ^ Doughty, Howard A (Summer 2006). "The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule". The College Quarterly 9 (3). Retrieved 2007-03-17. 

External links[edit]