Biological Foundations of Morality?

MARCH 18-19, 2010

Biological Foundations of Morality?How does what we are learning about the brain through neuroscience and evolutionary science influence how we ought to think about ethics? Recent advances in functional neuroimaging have increased scientists' understanding of how our brains process moral decisions. Some thinkers suggest that moral decision making is fundamentally an intuitive or emotional process, and that what we call "reason" is a post-decision making method of justification for actions, not a "higher order" process for making decisions. If so, the new science challenges the principle of free will, the argument that reason is the foundation of moral decision making, and the importance of understanding intentions before judging responsibility for action. The potential implications for most Western ethical traditions are enormous.

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Opening Keynote
Brains, Beliefs and Beyond
- Michael Gazzaniga
Director, SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, University of California Santa Barbara

Free Will/Moral Agency: The conscious and the unconscious

  • The Neuroscience of Human Will - Patrick Haggard
    Professor, University College of London, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Rethinking Free Will: New Perspectives on an Ancient Problem - Robert Kane '60, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin

The Sources of Moral Reasoning

  • When Our Moral Compass Goes South - Marc Hauser
    Professor and Director, Cognitive Evolution Lab, Harvard University
  • Of Trolleys and Cheaters: Automatic Controlled Processes in Moral Judgment - Joshua Greene
    Assistant Professor and Director, Moral Cognition Lab, Harvard University
  • Is Morality Unified? - Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
    Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics, Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke University

Disorders of Morality and Empathy: Neurological understandings of morality gone awry

  • The Cognitive Neuroscience of Callous and Unemotional Traits - James Blair
    Chief of the Unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience in the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, National Institute of Mental Health
  • Reason, Emotion, and Receptivity to Morality - Jeanette Kennett
    Professor, Philosophy, Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, Australia

Implications for Ethics

  • Stephen Pope
    Professor, Theology, Boston College
  • Rachana Kamtekar
    Associate Professor, Philosophy, University of Arizona

This conference is supported by the James N. and Eva Barrett Endowment for Ethics Programming. Special thanks to our campus advisory committee: Karsten Stueber, professor and chair, Department of Philosophy; William Stempsey, associate professor of philosophy; Daniel Bitran, professor and science coordinator, Department of Psychology; and Gregory DiGirolamo, associate professor of psychology.