April 14, 2024

Neuroscience cracks the morality code

Harvard experts show Newsweek readers that morality is all in your head
Evolutionary morality seems to be getting traction in the media. A recent issue of Newsweek included a feature on neuroscience and moral life. In one, Professor Marc Hauser, of Harvard, explains how people make moral decisions. “A new science of morality,” he says, “suggest[s] that nature provides a universal moral grammar, designed to generate fast, intuitive and universally held judgements of right and wrong”. He has found that this is basically a kind of utilitarianism which assesses moral actions by calculating the outcomes. Emotions do not affect our perceptions of what is right, but they do influence our actions. “We generally do not commit wrong acts because we recognize that they are wrong and because we do not want to pay the emotional price of doing something we perceive as wrong.”

And in another article, Michael Craig Miller, editor of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, declares that “The brain is the mind is the brain.” All mental operations, from fear to happiness to religious belief are all essentially material. A life worth living is one which fully engages the sensory cortex, the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the nucleus accumbens.

It must be rather unsettling for champions of traditional morality. Why bother about morality if you’ve got neuroscience?

Marc Hauser