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What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality
Patricia S. Churchland

Winner of the 2011 Award for Excellence in Biology & Life Sciences, Association of American Publishers
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2012

Paperback | 2012 | $17.95 | £14.95 | ISBN: 9780691156347
288 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 1 halftone. 11 line illus.
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Patricia S. Churchland
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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.


"[Patricia Churchland] finds that morality is all about empathy. . . . Churchland is also 'biological' about morality, seeing it as an adaptation that our brains have evolved in order to cement social ties. With a series of examples, she rejects the idea that morality is a set of rules and codes handed down from on high, without which we would all behave badley."--Matt Ridley, Wall Street Journal

"Churchland's discussion puts . . . areas of research prone to over-interpretation into much-needed perspective. . . . In my view, by illuminating the biological foundations on which caring, cooperation and social understanding are based, and by arguing against simplistic views about innateness and divine ordination, Churchland has delineated the conceptual space still to be navigated concerning which actions are morally right, how we come to those decisions, and how we justify them."--Adina L. Roskies, Nature

"Churchland provides an important service in Braintrust by applying recent scientific research to moral concerns."--Richard S. Mathis, Science

"Intriguing. . . . The puzzle that concerns [Churchland] above all is whether morality can be explained or justified by science."--Margaret A. Boden, Times Higher Education

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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

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