How your brain invents morality

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How your brain invents morality Empty How your brain invents morality

Post by Thorin on Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:46 am

Patricia Churchland is a neurophilosopher. That’s a fancy way of saying she studies new brain science, old philosophical questions, and how they shed light on each other.

For years, she’s been bothered by one question in particular: How did humans come to feel empathy and other moral intuitions? What’s the origin of that nagging little voice that we call our conscience?

In her new book, Conscience, Churchland argues that mammals — humans, yes, but also monkeys and rodents and so on — feel moral intuitions because of how our brains developed over the course of evolution. Mothers came to feel deeply attached to their children because that helped the children (and through them, the mother’s genes) survive. This ability to feel attachment was gradually generalized to mates, kin, and friends. “Attachment begets caring,” Churchland writes, “and caring begets conscience.”

Conscience, to her, is not a set of absolute moral truths, but a set of community norms that evolved because they were useful. “Tell the truth” and “keep your promises,” for example, help a social group stick together. Even today, our brains reinforce these norms by releasing pleasurable chemicals when our actions generate social approval (hello, dopamine!) and unpleasurable ones when they generate disapproval.

You’ll notice that words like “rationality” and “duty” — mainstays of traditional moral philosophy — are missing from Churchland’s narrative. Instead, there’s talk of brain regions like the cortex.

Rooting morality in biology has made Churchland a controversial figure among philosophers. Some think that approach is itself morally repugnant because it threatens to devalue ethics by reducing it to a bunch of neurochemicals zipping around our brains. A number of philosophers complain that she’s not doing “proper philosophy.” Other critics accuse her of scientism, which is when you overvalue science to the point that you see it as the only real source of knowledge.


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How your brain invents morality Empty Re: How your brain invents morality

Post by Lurker on Fri Jul 12, 2019 12:38 pm

"a bunch of neurochemicals zipping around our brains" ? Isn't that what all humans are?

"Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
- Denis Diderot

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