Biology invades a field philosophers thought was safely theirs
WHENCE morality? That is a question which has troubled philosophers since their subject was invented. Two and a half millennia of debate have, however, failed to produce a satisfactory answer. So now it is time for someone else to have a go. And at a panel discussion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, a group of biologists did just that.
Mark Hauser, of Harvard University, opened the batting by asking whether morality is more than just the refined application of the emotions. He thinks that it is. Human brains, he believes, have a separate morality module. Brain-scanning experiments show that when a volunteer is faced with a moral dilemma (such as a runaway railway trolley approaching a set of points, with dire consequences whichever way he throws those points) his emotional centres are not involved in the decision. Such “trolleyology”, as it has waggishly been dubbed, also suggests that reason is not part of the process. Different ways of killing the same number of people with a runaway trolley produce systematically different answers.
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