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Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality Churchland, Patricia

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Webcast sponsored by Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and hosted by Green College. An honoured tradition in moral philosophy depicts human moral behaviour as unrelated to social behaviour in nonhuman animals, and as relying on a uniquely human capacity to reason. Recent developments in the neuroscience of social bonding, the psychology of problem-solving, and the role of imitation in social behaviour jointly suggest instead an approach to morality that meshes with evolutionary biology. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that rules are essential to moral behaviour, rule-application is only occasionally a factor. According to the hypothesis on offer, the basic platform for morality is attachment and bonding, and the caring behavior motivated by such attachment. This hypothesis connects to a different, but currently unfashionable tradition, beginning with Aristotle’s ideas about social virtues, and David Hume’s 18th century ideas concerning “the moral sentiment”. One surprising outcome of the convergence of scientific approaches is that the revered dictum—you cannot infer an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’—looks dubious as a general rule restricting moral (practical) problem solving.

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