How the Mind Makes Morals
Patricia Churchland (University of California, San Diego)

November 20, 2013, 6:00pm - 7:30pm
London School of Economics

New Theatre, First Floor, East Building
United Kingdom

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One tradition in moral philosophy depicts human moral behavior as unrelated to social behavior in nonhuman animals. Morality, on this view, emerges from a uniquely human capacity to reason. By contrast, recent developments in the neuroscience of social bonding suggest instead an approach to morality that meshes with ethology and evolutionary biology. According to the hypothesis on offer, the basic platform for morality is attachment and bonding, and the caring behavior motivated by such attachment. Oyxtocin, a neurohormone, is at the hub of attachment behavior in social mammals and probably birds. Not acting alone, oxytocin works with other hormones and neurotransmitters and circuitry adaptations. Among its many roles, oxytocin decreases the stress response, making possible the trusting and cooperative interactions typical of life in social mammals. Although all social animals learn local conventions, humans are particularly adept social learners and imitators. Learning local social practices depends on the reward system because in social animals approval brings pleasure and disapproval brings pain. Acquiring social skills also involves generalizing from samples, so that learned exemplars can be applied to new circumstances. Problem-solving in the social domain gives rise to ecologically relevant practices for resolving conflicts and restricting within-group competition. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that explicit rules are essential to moral behavior, norms are often implicit and picked up by imitation. 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”.

This talk will start at 6 pm in the New Theatre, First Floor, East Building, LSE, Aldwych.  The talk will last an hour, followed by a short break, and then questions and discussion.  Space is limited, so please  arrive early to be sure of a seat.  No reservations can be taken.

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