Short Review – P S Churchland, The Impact of Neuroscience on Philosophy

The Impact of Neuroscience on Philosophy

Patricia Smith Churchland1,*

1Philosophy Department, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA

Draws on a number of well known scientific findings in neurobiology in an attempt to show that moral philosophy requires a considerable overhaul in terms of its preconceptions and, indeed, that it can be replaced by the findings of neuroscience.

Theses

  • That in the history of science, ‘speculative philosophy’ has gradually been replaced by more and more exact ‘pure’ science.
  • That moral philosophers have generally felt that the findings of neuroscience are irrelevant to their own deliberations.
  • The differences in OT (Oxytocin) levels between prairie and montane voles manifest themselves in very different behavioural patterns: the former tend to be monogamous, mate for life and assist in rearing their young. The latter do not.
  • Also highlights the role of OT (used as a nasal spray) in fostering trust in interpersonal relations.
  • Uses these findings to posit that ‘attachment, and its cohort, trust, are the anchors of morality; the reward systems tune up behavioral responses’.
  • Gives a far from convincing counter argument to the unique nature of human morality – the fact that humans have a long history of conflict and immorality and that universal human rights is only a relatively recent invention – and argues that ‘biologically rooted dispositions explain extending social attachment beyond kin and clan’.
  • Finishes with an explanation of the importance of mimicry in building trust and acceptance.

Discussion

  • Some intriguing scientific findings – particularly those involving OT – and certainly gives attention to the importance of trust in moral philosophy, something which has often been overlooked.
  • I feel she perhaps misses the real unique aspect of human morality and actions – our ability to stimulate ourselves. By this rather gnomic pronouncement I mean that whereas animals act in response to internal stimuli (e.g. a rush of adrenaline causes them to fight or flee), we are able to perform actions which cause these internal stimuli – we decide that we trust someone and this produces heightened OT levels.
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