Monday, October 18, 2010

Conscience (Moral Intutition) and Neuroscience

In her book The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics, Nina Rosenstand discusses a study published in 2007 by Antonio Damasio (a neuroscientist) and others working in the scientific field. The study appeared in the journal Nature and I have read similar observations in Damasio's books.

The study in Nature continues Damasio's work on individuals who have suffered ventromedial frontal lobe damage. It concludes that damage to one's frontal lobes usually makes it difficult for humans to make decisions that involve the lives of others. We evidently have "an emotional reluctance" (Rosenstand, 22) to make decisions that will bring about the death of others. However, persons who have experienced damage to the ventromedial frontal lobes evidently do not hesitate to make decisions that possibly save numerous lives but also bring it about that one or at least a few humans die.

The upshot of this study is supposed to be that we have a center in the brain that is responsible for providing a "moral compass" (ibid). In the words of Rosenstand, "we do appear to have been equipped with some sort of moral intuition from birth" (ibid). Furthermore, the study by Damasio (et. al.) indicates that our moral decisions are probably based on both emotional and rational factors. Rosenstand points out that the scientific study of where moral decisions are made does not exhaust ethics. Moreover, there are admittedly other studies that balance the one undertaken by Damasio and his colleagues. But I think that Damasio, other scientists and philosophers have made a good case for viewing human conscience or moral intuition as a neurobiological phenomenon.


KentAZ said...

The science involved here confirms the Biblical narrative which indicates that consciousness is a physiological phenomenon (i.e., there is no metaphysical "soul/spirit" which survives the death of the body and possesses inherent sentience). When the body dies, conscious thought (including conscience) ceases to exist. (Eccl. 9:5)

Anonymous said...

Hi Edgar.

Matt13weedhacker here.

I see you found my blog. "The Earliest Christians did no teach a Trinity." I have a lot of work to do on some of the posts.

I am really sorry to post off topic, but I came accross what appears to be a blatant miss-translation by Trinitarians in Justin Martyrs Dialouge with Trypho Chap 125:3

Can I get your opinion please?

3 καὶ τὸ οὖν Ἰσραὴλ ὄνομα τοῦτο σημαίνει· ἄνθρωπος νικῶν δύναμιν· τὸ γὰρ ἴσρα ἄνθρωπος νικῶν ἐστι, τὸ δὲ ἢλ δύναμις. ὅπερ καὶ διὰ τοῦ μυστηρίου τῆς πάλης, ἣν ἐπάλαισεν Ἰακὼβ μετὰ τοῦ φαινομένου μὲν ἐκ τοῦ τῇ τοῦ πατρὸς βουλῇ ὑπηρετεῖν, θεοῦ δὲ ἐκ τοῦ εἶναι τέκνον πρωτότοκον τῶν ὅλων κτισμάτων, ἐπεπροφήτευτο οὕτως καὶ ἄνθρωπος γενόμενος ὁ Χριστὸς ποιήσειν.

Chapter 125:[3] "...That Christ ... in that Christ ministered to the will of God, yet He is God, because He is the First-begotten of all creatures..." (KET)

CHAPTER CXXV:[III]: "...And that Christ ... in that He ministered to the will of the Father, yet nevertheless is God, in that He is the first-begotten of all creatures..." (R&DT)

θεοῦ δὲ ἐκ τοῦ εἶναι τέκνον πρωτότοκον τῶν ὅλων κτισμάτων

"(of) God but out-of (of) the to be a child first-born (of) the (of) entire/whole (of) created things"

What is your opinion?

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Matt13weedhacker,

I'll try to reply in a separate post in order to keep this thread for the issue of neuroscience, etc.



Edgar Foster said...


It seems that neuroscience is leading us in the direction you mention. What people once attributed to the soul is now being ascribed to the brain.