Churchland’s take on ethics and neuroscience


Article reads: Churchland’s position within academic philosophy is ambiguous. In conversation, she is far more likely to cite writers like the science journalist Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, or the economist Paul Seabright, author of The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life, than contemporary philosophers. But her biocultural view is compatible, she thinks, with Aristotle’s argument that morality is not about rule-making but instead about the cultivation of moral sentiment through experience, training, and the following of role models. The biological story also confirms, she thinks, David Hume’s assertion that reason and the emotions cannot be disentangled. This view stands in sharp contrast to those philosophers who argue that instinctual reactions must be scrutinized by reason. The villains of her books are philosophical system-builders—whether that means Jeremy Bentham, with his ideas about maximizing aggregate utility (“the greatest good for the greatest number”), or Immanuel Kant, with his categorical imperatives (never lie!), or John Rawls, erector of A Theory of Justice.

I think neuroscience will fall for panpsychism and vitalism, and at that level we find philosophy again. The fact, that she believes reason and emotion cannot be separated, already points to vitalism because it is emotion that escapes through the gap offered by Kant`s 3rd antinomy, its emotion that is found two-sided. We fail when we treat emotion as one-sided, when emotions are finding themselves shared with others.

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