The Moral Sense: An Essay

What are the sources of moral order? This is an important question when violence, dishonesty, family break-up and other social problems affect an increasing proportion of the population.

In The Moral Sense: An Essay James Q. Wilson locates the source of moral order in a ‘moral sense’- ‘a directly felt impression of some standards by which we ought to judge voluntary action’. This moral sense is based in human predisposition found across cultures and across time.  It cannot be explained as the product of self-interest or simply as the following of cultural rules, but is grounded more fundamentally in human nature.

Others have, of course, expressed similar views. The distinctive feature of The Moral Sense: An Essay is that it uses the findings of modern science and social science to provide extensive evidence that natural human inclinations toward sociability lay the foundations for sympathy, fairness and reciprocity.

While other commentators on moral order seem close to despair, Wilson remains hopeful. The moral sense provides no guarantee of good behaviour, but it does provide solid foundations for moral order.