CIMeC Colloquium Series: Patricia S Churchland
Title: Social Conscience: Evolutionary Origins and Brain Mechanisms
Abstract: One tradition in moral philosophy depicts human moral behavior as unrelated to social behavior in nonhuman animals. Morality, on this view, emerges from a uniquely human capacity to reason. By contrast, recent developments in the neuroscience of social bonding suggest instead an approach to morality that meshes with ethology and evolutionary biology. According to the hypothesis on offer, the basic platform for morality is attachment and bonding, and the caring behavior motivated by such attachment. Oxytocin, a neurohormone, is at the hub of attachment behavior in social mammals and birds. Although all social mammals learn local conventions, humans are particularly adept social learners and imitators. Learning local social practices depends on the reward system because in social animals, approval brings pleasure and disapproval brings pain. Problem-solving in the social domain gives rise to ecologically relevant practices for resolving conflicts and restricting within-group competition. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that explicit rules are essential to moral behavior, norms are often implicit and picked up by imitation.