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Patricia Churchland at Book Works March 9, 2011

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Human Nature.
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A quick message for interested San Diegans: Patricia Churchland will be doing a reading Thursday evening , March 10:

In “Braintrust,” Patricia Churchland, professor emeritus of philosophy at UCSD, uses neuroscience to question accepted wisdom about the origins of morality.

She will be at Book Works in Del Mar Thursday at 7 p.m. for a reading.

From a San Diego Union Tribune interview:

What is new about the hypothesis you are offering?

As I see it, moral values are rooted in family values displayed by 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.

Read more here.



1. Paul J. Moloney - March 20, 2011

I would make a comment on this post just so as not to appear envious toward Patricia and her accomplishments. Envious people are prone to say nothing at all or something unduly critical about the accomplishments of others.

My first reaction to Patricia’s comments was to think of experiences that contradicted her thesis. When I was a child, adult relatives lied at my expense to get themselves out of trouble. I thought my experiences could be singular and exceptions to the premises put forward by Patricia. Then I thought of the numerous cases of child abuse by parents, and, of course, spousal abuse, which seems fairly prevalent. It could be, though, that abuse of family members by other family members is not as prevalent as the protection of family members by other family members is. Anyway, I wish the case, as stated by Patricia, were true. In fact, the cases that seem to speak against her thesis could actually confirm her thesis, at least the part of the thesis regarding stress. I would venture to say that we all experience stress to some degree, but we do not all smoke to alleviate stress. It depends on what we do to alleviate stress. It seems very probable to me, then, that we could alleviate stress by being protective of family members. It does not seem implausible to me that such behavior could initiate oxytocin, which in turn alleviates stress. The adult relatives that lied when I was a child were trying to escape the stress of getting themselves into trouble. If they had been protective of me, they would never have put themselves in such stressful situations in the first place. It seems to me, then, that if one consciously acts on the thesis proposed by Patricia, they will find it true. I would actually extend her thesis. I am speculating that, if we make it a point to protect others from ourselves, we will alleviate even more stress. By “ourselves” I mean primarily our egotistical behavior.

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