How The Mind Makes Morals

An honored tradition in moral philosophy depicts human moral behavior as unrelated to social behavior 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 behavior jointly suggest instead an approach to morality that meshes with evolutionary biology. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that rules are essential to moral behavior, rule-application is only occasionally a factor. Patricia Churchland, BPhil, will discuss her hypothesis that 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 continuing with David Hume’s 18th-century ideas about “the moral sentiment.” One surprising outcome of the convergence of scientific approaches is that the revered dictum that you cannot infer an “ought” from an “is” looks dubious as a general rule restricting moral (practical) problem-solving.