What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality

Book - 2011
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Princeton University Press

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.

Publisher: Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2011
ISBN: 9780691137032
Branch Call Number: 612.8 CHU
Characteristics: 273 p. :,ill. ;,24 cm.


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Mar 08, 2014

A clear and concise book. Definitely worth reading if you're interested in ethics or psychology.

Quimeras May 30, 2013

Although informative, “Braintrust” is not an easy read. It is not the concepts or terminology that makes it difficult but rather, the organization and selection of ideas (some of which I question whether or not they were important to the whole). The book, in my opinion, simply needed a bit more editing.

srmechs Jan 29, 2013

This is a fabulous book, well wrtten, exciting to read and for me at least, worth rereading.. [I'm starting my third rereading in less than three months, and I'm considering buying despite a very limited budget] The author is a philosopher interested in morality, who wanted to understand how our human sense of morality was grounded in our physical existence. This led to study of neuroscience and to serious research and writing, most recently this book.

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