Ethics and the Ethical Brain

I’ve suggested that traditional ethical convictions in our culture have been grounded in a belief (often tacit) in an immaterial soul that somehow uses the brain, but reserves for itself the powers of moral reasoning, decision making, and an appreciation of meaning and purpose. The cognitive neuroscience revolution challenges that belief, and increasingly forces us to recognize that all mental life is a product of the evolved, genetically influenced structure of the brain. This challenge has also been seen to threaten sacred moral values, but I would argue (and like to think that Gazzaniga agrees) that in fact that is not a logical consequence. On the contrary, I think a better understanding of what makes us tick, and of our place in nature, can clarify those values. This understanding shows that political equality does not require sameness, but rather policies that treat people as individuals with rights; that moral progress does not require that the mind is free of selfish motives, only that it has other motives to counteract them; that responsibility does not require that behavior is uncaused, only that it responds to contingencies of credit and blame; and that finding meaning in life does not require that the process that shaped the brain have a purpose, only that the brain itself have a purpose.


Read also: The Ethical Brain: The Science of Our Moral Dilemmas


About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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