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Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality

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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

"This is a terrific, clear, and finely sensitive account of human moral and social behavior and its neurobiological--and decidedly secular--underpinnings. Patricia Churchland once again leads the way."--Michael S. Gazzaniga, author of Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique

"Few areas of science are as relevant for the future of humanity as the science of morality, and few scholars are as prepared to comment on its current status as Patricia Churchland. She has exactly the right background to carve out an original approach to the problem, and the skills needed to lead the reader to solid new facts while being merciless with exaggerated claims and sloppy thinking. Braintrust is vintage Churchland, only better."--Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes's Error

"In its search for the origins of morality, this book deftly balances philosophical questions and an understanding of how the brain actually works. It is a rare combination, and extremely fruitful. Churchland roots morality firmly in the social emotions rather than in some abstract principles, yet shows us how and why these principles nevertheless emerge."--Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape and The Age of Empathy

"Churchland takes us on a thrilling journey from molecules to morals. We learn how brain chemicals implicated in orgasms also underlie ethics. But Churchland resists biological reductionism--along with the rigid rules of religion and philosophy--and compellingly argues that morality is culturally crafted to meet the demands of human life."--Jesse Prinz, author of Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind

"This superb book is the ideal answer to those who doubt that neuroscience, experimental psychology, and behavioral studies of nonhuman animals can ever tell us anything valuable about human morality. Written with elegance, subtlety, and deep learning lightly worn, this is one of those rare books that will enlighten and fascinate novices and experts alike."--Paul Seabright, author of The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life

"Braintrust is a tour de force, a take-no-prisoners deconstruction of the fictions of ethics based on pure reason or intuition, and a sustained defense of what, at our best, we are already doing--using our brains to flourish in complex social and natural ecologies."--Owen Flanagan, author of The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World

"This is a groundbreaking contribution to our understanding of how morality is related to our biology and evolution. It is also a unique and valuable bridge between neuroscience and philosophy."--Ralph J. Greenspan, Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, University of California, San Diego

Synopsis:

"This is a terrific, clear, and finely sensitive account of human moral and social behavior and its neurobiological--and decidedly secular--underpinnings. Patricia Churchland once again leads the way."--Michael S. Gazzaniga, author of Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique

"Few areas of science are as relevant for the future of humanity as the science of morality, and few scholars are as prepared to comment on its current status as Patricia Churchland. She has exactly the right background to carve out an original approach to the problem, and the skills needed to lead the reader to solid new facts while being merciless with exaggerated claims and sloppy thinking. Braintrust is vintage Churchland, only better."--Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes's Error

"In its search for the origins of morality, this book deftly balances philosophical questions and an understanding of how the brain actually works. It is a rare combination, and extremely fruitful. Churchland roots morality firmly in the social emotions rather than in some abstract principles, yet shows us how and why these principles nevertheless emerge."--Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape and The Age of Empathy

"Churchland takes us on a thrilling journey from molecules to morals. We learn how brain chemicals implicated in orgasms also underlie ethics. But Churchland resists biological reductionism--along with the rigid rules of religion and philosophy--and compellingly argues that morality is culturally crafted to meet the demands of human life."--Jesse Prinz, author of Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind

"This superb book is the ideal answer to those who doubt that neuroscience, experimental psychology, and behavioral studies of nonhuman animals can ever tell us anything valuable about human morality. Written with elegance, subtlety, and deep learning lightly worn, this is one of those rare books that will enlighten and fascinate novices and experts alike."--Paul Seabright, author of The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life

"Braintrust is a tour de force, a take-no-prisoners deconstruction of the fictions of ethics based on pure reason or intuition, and a sustained defense of what, at our best, we are already doing--using our brains to flourish in complex social and natural ecologies."--Owen Flanagan, author of The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World

"This is a groundbreaking contribution to our understanding of how morality is related to our biology and evolution. It is also a unique and valuable bridge between neuroscience and philosophy."--Ralph J. Greenspan, Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, University of California, San Diego

Synopsis:

What is morality? Where does it come from? And why do most of us heed its call most of the time? In Braintrust, neurophilosophy pioneer Patricia Churchland argues that morality originates in the biology of the brain. She describes the "neurobiological platform of bonding" that, modified by evolutionary pressures and cultural values, has led to human styles of moral behavior. The result is a provocative genealogy of morals that asks us to reevaluate the priority given to religion, absolute rules, and pure reason in accounting for the basis of morality.

Moral values, Churchland argues, are rooted in a behavior common to all mammals--the caring for offspring. The evolved structure, processes, and chemistry of the brain incline humans to strive not only for self-preservation but for the well-being of allied selves--first offspring, then mates, kin, and so on, in wider and wider "caring" circles. Separation and exclusion cause pain, and the company of loved ones causes pleasure; responding to feelings of social pain and pleasure, brains adjust their circuitry to local customs. In this way, caring is apportioned, conscience molded, and moral intuitions instilled. A key part of the story is oxytocin, an ancient body-and-brain molecule that, by decreasing the stress response, allows humans to develop the trust in one another necessary for the development of close-knit ties, social institutions, and morality.

A major new account of what really makes us moral, Braintrust challenges us to reconsider the origins of some of our most cherished values.

About the Author

Patricia S. Churchland is professor emerita of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. Her books include "Brain-Wise" and "Neurophilosophy". In 1991, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Chapter 1. Introduction 1

Chapter 2. Brain-Based Values 12

Chapter 3. Caring and Caring For 27

Chapter 4. Cooperating and Trusting 63

Chapter 5. Networking: Genes, Brains, and Behavior 95

Chapter 6. Skills for a Social Life 118

Chapter 7. Not as a Rule 163

Chapter 8. Religion and Morality 191

Notes 205

Bibliography 235

Acknowledgments 259

Index 261

Product Details

ISBN:
9780691156347
Author:
Churchland, Patricia Smith
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Author:
Churchland, Patricia S.
Subject:
Applied Psychology
Subject:
Popular science
Subject:
Philosophy
Subject:
Cognitive science
Subject:
Biological Sciences.
Subject:
Psychology : General
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20120831
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Illustrations:
1 halftone. 11 line illus.
Pages:
288
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Related Subjects

Health and Self-Help » Psychology » Cognitive Science
Health and Self-Help » Psychology » General
Health and Self-Help » Psychology » Mind and Consciousness
Humanities » Philosophy » Ethics
Humanities » Philosophy » General
Reference » Science Reference » General
Science and Mathematics » Biology » Neurobiology

Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality New Trade Paper
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Product details 288 pages Princeton University Press - English 9780691156347 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , "This is a terrific, clear, and finely sensitive account of human moral and social behavior and its neurobiological--and decidedly secular--underpinnings. Patricia Churchland once again leads the way."--Michael S. Gazzaniga, author of Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique

"Few areas of science are as relevant for the future of humanity as the science of morality, and few scholars are as prepared to comment on its current status as Patricia Churchland. She has exactly the right background to carve out an original approach to the problem, and the skills needed to lead the reader to solid new facts while being merciless with exaggerated claims and sloppy thinking. Braintrust is vintage Churchland, only better."--Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes's Error

"In its search for the origins of morality, this book deftly balances philosophical questions and an understanding of how the brain actually works. It is a rare combination, and extremely fruitful. Churchland roots morality firmly in the social emotions rather than in some abstract principles, yet shows us how and why these principles nevertheless emerge."--Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape and The Age of Empathy

"Churchland takes us on a thrilling journey from molecules to morals. We learn how brain chemicals implicated in orgasms also underlie ethics. But Churchland resists biological reductionism--along with the rigid rules of religion and philosophy--and compellingly argues that morality is culturally crafted to meet the demands of human life."--Jesse Prinz, author of Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind

"This superb book is the ideal answer to those who doubt that neuroscience, experimental psychology, and behavioral studies of nonhuman animals can ever tell us anything valuable about human morality. Written with elegance, subtlety, and deep learning lightly worn, this is one of those rare books that will enlighten and fascinate novices and experts alike."--Paul Seabright, author of The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life

"Braintrust is a tour de force, a take-no-prisoners deconstruction of the fictions of ethics based on pure reason or intuition, and a sustained defense of what, at our best, we are already doing--using our brains to flourish in complex social and natural ecologies."--Owen Flanagan, author of The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World

"This is a groundbreaking contribution to our understanding of how morality is related to our biology and evolution. It is also a unique and valuable bridge between neuroscience and philosophy."--Ralph J. Greenspan, Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, University of California, San Diego

"Synopsis" by , What is morality? Where does it come from? And why do most of us heed its call most of the time? In Braintrust, neurophilosophy pioneer Patricia Churchland argues that morality originates in the biology of the brain. She describes the "neurobiological platform of bonding" that, modified by evolutionary pressures and cultural values, has led to human styles of moral behavior. The result is a provocative genealogy of morals that asks us to reevaluate the priority given to religion, absolute rules, and pure reason in accounting for the basis of morality.

Moral values, Churchland argues, are rooted in a behavior common to all mammals--the caring for offspring. The evolved structure, processes, and chemistry of the brain incline humans to strive not only for self-preservation but for the well-being of allied selves--first offspring, then mates, kin, and so on, in wider and wider "caring" circles. Separation and exclusion cause pain, and the company of loved ones causes pleasure; responding to feelings of social pain and pleasure, brains adjust their circuitry to local customs. In this way, caring is apportioned, conscience molded, and moral intuitions instilled. A key part of the story is oxytocin, an ancient body-and-brain molecule that, by decreasing the stress response, allows humans to develop the trust in one another necessary for the development of close-knit ties, social institutions, and morality.

A major new account of what really makes us moral, Braintrust challenges us to reconsider the origins of some of our most cherished values.

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