Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality by Patricia S. ChurchlandBraintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality by Patricia S. Churchland

Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality

byPatricia S. Churchland

Paperback | August 26, 2012

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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? InBraintrust, 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,Braintrustchallenges us to reconsider the origins of some of our most cherished values.

Patricia S. Churchlandis professor emerita of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. Her books includeBrain-WiseandNeurophilosophy. In 1991, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.
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Title:Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about MoralityFormat:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 9.25 × 6 × 0.68 inPublished:August 26, 2012Publisher:Princeton University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0691156344

ISBN - 13:9780691156347

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Morality, Neuroscience, Hume, and Quine! Oh my! Churchland did her homework. She cites Hume as a large influence of her work in morality, which is highly reflective of this work (and a much better choice than Kant, might I add). Though I viewed the content as more of a tentative framework than positing absolute claims about morality. In this regard Churchland does herself into a bit of a catch-22: she's so tentative about positing any sort of argument there is not really much of an argument rendered. She does well to say that speculation is still very much in accord with the finding and procedures laid out. But dammit Patricia, you could have run so much farther with this! This is the big difference from Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape . Harris' account contains some very large sweeping metaphysical, epistemic and moral implications. On my own interpretation I feel Harris is just trying to dress utilitarianism in a fancy lab coat. Churchland lacks the alacrity and implications of Harris, and that is probably why I agree with her account more, furthermore I feel most people will be far more comfortable with Churchland's framework than Harris' moral realism and consequationalism. Churchland also deals with the (in)famous naturalistic fallacy, first brought about by G. E. Moore in his magnum opus Principa Ethica, rather Quine-ian. I was reminded a lot of Quine's Two Dogmas of Empricism and the manner in which he seeks out to destroy the the analytic/synthetic distinction (and destroy Quine did, for the record!). On the whole, I feel Churchland's account is very much on the right track to solving the enigmatic dilemmas of morality. The only criticism is her tentativeness; though this is easily understandable given the infancy of neuroscience and all of the new information arises thereof. Juxtaposed to Harris', Churchland wipes the floor and gives, far-and-away, a more satisfactory account. And much to my chagrin, I will have a twinge of guilty when levying the naturalistic fallacy against an interloper. Goddamn you, brain and emotional dispositions!
Date published: 2013-07-12

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

Editorial Reviews

"Researchers interested in cooperation, moral psychology, and empirically-informed metaethics could happily and rewardingly immerse themselves in Braintrust."--Benjamin James Fraser, Biology and Philosophy