So says neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland, in a new book:
In her new book, Conscience, Churchland argues that mammals — humans, yes, but also monkeys and rodents and so on — feel moral intuitions because of how our brains developed over the course of evolution. Mothers came to feel deeply attached to their children because that helped the children (and through them, the mother’s genes) survive. This ability to feel attachment was gradually generalized to mates, kin, and friends. “Attachment begets caring,” Churchland writes, “and caring begets conscience.”
Conscience, to her, is not a set of absolute moral truths, but a set of community norms that evolved because they were useful. “Tell the truth” and “keep your promises,” for example, help a social group stick together. Even today, our brains reinforce these norms by releasing pleasurable chemicals when our actions generate social approval (hello, dopamine!) and unpleasurable ones when they generate disapproval.
You’ll notice that words like “rationality” and “duty” — mainstays of traditional moral philosophy — are missing from Churchland’s narrative. Instead, there’s talk of brain regions like the cortex.Sigal Samuel, “How your brain invents morality” at Vox
Presumably, you have to start by believing that rats and mice have a conscience.
Hat tip: Ken Francis, co-author with Theodore Dalrymple of The Terror of Existence: From Ecclesiastes to Theatre of the Absurd
Francis writes to say,
In my book in a chapter on Nietzsche ( The Little Book of God, Mind, Cosmos and Truth), I argued against Churchland’s irrational findings; Darwin was quite clear that animals primarily live to survive and not seek truth; but would that include humans, especially philosophers making statements which they deem right (truthful?) and those seeking to become Supermen? Atheist philosopher Patricia Churchland said that as biological beings, we’re not hardwired to seek truth; rather we’re fundamentally hardwired by deterministic, materialistic forces to survive. But isn’t she claiming a truth value in that statement? Churchland says: ‘Boiled down to its essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and f*****g [reproducing] …Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.” (Patricia Churchland, ‘Epistemology in the Age of Neuroscience,’ Journal of Philosophy 84 (October 1987): 548-9
Why is it that the people most likely to be attracted to this sort of naturalism (nature is all there is), often called “materialism,” also appear to be full of rage against what they perceive to be injustice, smashing stuff and people? And none of their theories about how they’ll make anything better sound very convincing.
See also: Rabbi Says, Flat-Out Materialist Patricia Churchland’s Thinking “Is A Moral Mess”
Selective Moral Doubt (Barry Arrington)
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