What is morality? Where does it come from? And why do most of us heed its call most of the time? In Braintrust, neurophilosophy pioneer Patricia Churchland argues that morality originates in the biology of the brain. She describes the "neurobiological platform of bonding" that, modified by evolutionary pressures and cultural values, has led to human styles of moral behavior. The result is a provocative genealogy of morals that asks us to reevaluate the priority given to religion, absolute rules, and pure reason in accounting for the basis of morality.
Moral values, Churchland argues, are rooted in a behavior common to all mammals: the caring for offspring. The evolved structure, processes, and chemistry of the brain incline humans to strive not only for self-preservation but for the well-being of allied selves—first offspring, then mates, kin, and so on, in wider and wider "caring" circles. Separation and exclusion cause pain, and the company of loved ones causes pleasure; responding to feelings of social pain and pleasure, brains adjust their circuitry to local customs. In this way, caring is apportioned, conscience molded, and moral intuitions instilled. A key part of the story is oxytocin, an ancient body-and-brain molecule that, by decreasing the stress response, allows humans to develop the trust in one another necessary for the development of close-knit ties, social institutions, and morality.
A major new account of what really makes us moral, Braintrust challenges us to reconsider the origins of some of our most cherished values.
Patricia S. Churchland is professor emerita of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. Her books include Brain-Wise and Neurophilosophy. In 1991, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix Chapter 1. Introduction 1 Chapter 2. Brain-Based Values 12 Chapter 3. Caring and Caring For 27 Chapter 4. Cooperating and Trusting 63 Chapter 5. Networking: Genes, Brains, and Behavior 95 Chapter 6. Skills for a Social Life 118 Chapter 7. Not as a Rule 163 Chapter 8. Religion and Morality 191 Notes 205 Bibliography 235 Acknowledgments 259 Index 261
Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality 5 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
I should have written this review months ago..
Highly recommended for anyone curious about the possible biological foundations of altruism and our most prevalent moral intuitions. Patricia Churchland is a fantastic cognitive scientist and philosopher. You will leave this book with a whole new outlook on ethics and what it means to be human, not to mention a basic understanding of important neurological brain mechanisms.
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