The Brains Behind Morality
Social neuroscience, especially in the last decade, has made impressive progress in exploring the neural mechanisms regulating social behavior, including consolation, attachment and bonding, aggression, willingness to punish, and the effects of nurturing and social stress on the developing brain. In parallel, behavioral research on nonhuman mammals and birds has revealed the existence of prosocial choice, consolation behavior as well as sharing and caring. In combination, the research raises the wider question of what these various results signify for our understanding of human social motivation in general and moral motivation in particular. Although moral philosophers have discussed norms and values since Socrates and Confucius, the scientific approach has provided new insights and provoked a reconsideration of common assumptions about the nature and origin of moral values. This talk has five parts: (1) the evolutionary origin of sociality in mammals and birds, (2) a brief geography of moral philosophy (3) the role of oxytocin and the endocannabinoids in social bonding, (4) discussion of the links between the reward system and reinforcement learning of social norms and (5) what this all means for understanding moral values.