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Patricia Churchland, BPhil
How the Mind Makes Morals
Emerita Professor of Philosophy, University of California, San Diego
2 Riverside Circle, Roanoke, VA 24016
A public reception will precede this event in the VTC Cafe at 4:30 p.m. A shuttle will depart from Burruss Hall in Blacksburg at 4:00 p.m. and return at 6:45 p.m.
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.
About the Speaker:
Patricia Churchland, BPhil, is a leading authority in the field of computational neuroscience. She explores the impact of scientific developments on our understanding of consciousness, the self, free will, decision-making, ethics, learning, and religion and issues concerning the neurobiological basis of consciousness, the self, and free will. She also tackles more technical questions about to what degree the nervous system is hierarchically organized, how the nervous system manages the difficult issues of coordination and timing, and what the mechanisms are for the perceptual phenomenon of filling-in. The central focus of her research has been the exploration and development of the hypothesis that the mind is the brain. Her first book, Neurophilosophy (MIT Press, 1986), argued in detail for a coevolution of psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience to answer questions about how the mind represents, reasons, decides, and perceives; her second book, The Computational Brain (MIT, 1992, with Terrence Sejnowski) addressed the theoretical apparatus needed to bridge the gap between lower and higher levels of brain organization. Churchland has served as president of the American Philosophical Association (Pacific Division) and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology. She won a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991. I have been president of the American Philosophical Association (Pacific Division) and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and won a MacArthur Prize in 1991.