Intelligent Design Mind Naturalism Neuroscience

Philosopher: Morality is merely community norms

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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”

and

Selective Moral Doubt (Barry Arrington)

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7 Replies to “Philosopher: Morality is merely community norms

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    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

    I always find it slightly ironic when apologists talk about rationality when referring to morals given that their God never deigns to provide detailed rationales for his moral prescriptions and, if the Old Testament is to be believed, blithely ignores them whenever it suits Him, no reasons given. Yet we are told that He is the supreme authority when it comes to all things moral. So what He says goes, according to His followers, no questions asked. Is that rational?

  2. 2
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    I always find it slightly ironic when apologists talk about rationality when referring to morals given that their God never deigns to provide detailed rationales for his moral prescriptions and, if the Old Testament is to be believed, blithely ignores them whenever it suits Him, no reasons given. Yet we are told that He is the supreme authority when it comes to all things moral. So what He says goes, according to His followers, no questions asked. Is that rational?

    The Bible is a text revealed by God, giving an outline or structure. God gave humans the ability to think about things and, importantly, to continue to develop and learn, generation after generation. It is part of the adventure of life. If we had every answer given in minute detail from the first experience of Moses – what would there be left to discover? So, very wonderfully, every generation of people finds new ideas embedded into the structure that God gave centuries ago.
    As for asking questions, you might try the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas. There are thousands of theological questions presented there with answers from authoritative sources.
    That book is one of the classic texts of Western civilization.

  3. 3
    vmahuna says:

    “The Bible is a text revealed by God, giving an outline or structure.” Well, nope.
    Historians, and anyone else who cares about actual facts, KNOW that both the Old and New Testaments were written by hacks using the barest connection to Truth.
    For the New Testament, check out the MUCH older Egyptian “myth” about Isis (Mary) and Osiris (Jesus). A miraculous birth to a Virgin, in a stable, attended by shepherds. Which part of this are you NOT getting as a Parable (a STORY whose plot suggests some other MEANING)? Noah, Moses, David, etc., etc., are all mythical characters who have less connection to ANY History than the Irish hero Cúchulainn has to the history of the Celts in the British Isles. The Hebrews never escaped from Egypt because they were never IN Egypt. They camped out at the border to Egypt for a spell before the Egyptians told them to go “home”, wherever THAT was. And of course “Mount Ararat” is a volcano in the mountains that now form the border with Arabia (i.e., nowhere CLOSE to the Sinai desert).
    And of course NONE of the ancient Historians (most especially Herodotus) mention ANY noteworthy activity in the obscure VILLAGE called “Jerusalem” before the Romans came in and FINALLY built a Roman style temple (which was COMPLETELY destroyed during the Jewish rebellion). The Wall that people seem so intent on praying at is the FOUNDATION for the Roman FORTRESS built in the middle of the city. NO ONE has ANY idea where the Roman-built Jewish temple was located because Roman engineers METHODICALLY destroyed it.
    Etc., etc.
    So do you wanna put some great importance in fairy tales, or do you want to seek Truth?

  4. 4
    AaronS1978 says:

    https://www.catholic.com/search?q=Egyptian.%20Myth

    People like Trent Horn and Jimmy Atkin
    Address literally all of what you mentioned above
    The Zeitgeist movie makes all those accusations to and the movie was pretty thoroughly torn apart, shown to be fraudulent, and debunked be a myriad of historians

    But I don’t know if anybody other than conspiracy theorist that take the Jesus was a myth based off of Egyptian mythology motif seriously there are many many differences between the two the only parallels was both went to hell and both were resurrected. Jesus actually just came back to life, Anubis had to put Osiris back together and he never left the underworld

    But the list goes on at this stage of the game I’ve heard so many of these claims that when I hear them now I just toss them in the trash bin and go on with my day because the claims never hold

    Also there’s much debate about the exitus but the numbers were actually very few and they believe that the numbers that were said in the Bible were strictly symbolic which they most definitely were, the Bible has knowledge of things that it should not have had any knowledge of such as where the Egyptian guard posts were, which were accurate, but buried under sand at the time the Bible was written. The only way the riders would’ve had knowledge of the locations of these guard post during the exitus would’ve been if they had somebody there who knew where they were in the first place and that knowledge of been passed down.

    But I do strongly recommend Checking out a couple of the sites that have to defend or look at the perspective opposite of conspiracy theory and see what their arguments are, there are many things that challenge those concepts that you have posted

    You’re free to believe what you want I’m not here to change your perspective, just to show that what you’ve said is up for debate and there is no rocksolid proof other than broad accusations and generalizations on both sides

    Here is a point in case, nobody believed king David existed 80 years ago they thought that it was all fake just like the exodus until they found a coin bearing his inscription and then they found a whole lot more the only thing that was kind of an accurate about the telling of King David in the Bible was his kingdom was a lot smaller but then size is relative that could’ve been huge for them back then

  5. 5
    EDTA says:

    vmahuna wrote,
    >A miraculous birth to a Virgin, in a stable, attended by shepherds…

    I read the wikipedia article on the myth of Isis/Osiris, and see absolutely nothing like what you claim. Do you have a better source?

  6. 6
    PaV says:

    Severesky:

    I always find it slightly ironic when apologists talk about rationality when referring to morals given that their God never deigns to provide detailed rationales for his moral prescriptions and, if the Old Testament is to be believed, blithely ignores them whenever it suits Him, no reasons given. Yet we are told that He is the supreme authority when it comes to all things moral. So what He says goes, according to His followers, no questions asked. Is that rational?

    First of all, morality is not fundamentally “rational”: it is a matter of intuition, instead. Thomas Aquinas called it ‘sinteresis.’ The rational dimensions of morality flow from these intuited “first principles.” Of course, this supposes the human mind’s capacity for rational thought.

    Thus, secondly, if God is the source of rationality, then this mental faculty is able to process the demands of morality and make assessments. So, there is nothing ‘arbitrary’ about what people of faith think about morality. Thus, we find in the Gospels, over and over again, Jesus calling the people of his day to use common sense. Aquinas, I believe, says that any law that is not rational is not, in fact, a moral law.

    Thirdly, if you want to invoke the Old Testament, then don’t make the mistake of thinking that our human minds, with their limited rationality and ability to intuit the truth, can possibly pronounce moral judgements about God Himself. This is the job of the Devil. And, of course, he’s the Father of Lies. No, if God chooses to destroy an entire population of people, as the Creator of those people, and as the Cause of their final happiness or sorrow, is free to do what He wills. IOW, we haven’t the frame of reference to make such judgements. However, in the provenance of human action, rationality is fully at work–and not at variance with the God of the Old, and New, Covenant.

  7. 7
    Trumper says:

    Too funny – that some are still so ill-educated (or just poor judges of what they have been told) as to still believe that the bible is just man’s fanciful attempt at a good story. Facts as they are…. the bible in it’s entirety is actually a very historically factual record. It has even been relied up on by scholars and scientists to better piece together findings… even recently there have been actual artifacts that have been discovered that corroborate something stated in the bible that has never been found or stated elsewhere. But, given this historical nature of the bible that of course in not a stretch to have that happen….but it does continue to lend credibility as to the nature of the bible and it’s historical reference…. rational minds all agree on that much – as for the spiritual nature of it’s message , well that is more subjective , and less rational minds can’t walk down that path.

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