Neuroscience and Morality


  • Bernard Gert

  • Bernard Gert, “Neuroscience and Morality,”


In 2009 I participated in a symposium, “Toward a Common Morality,” held at the United Nations Building in New York, that reflected the growing interest among scientists and philosophers in showing that science—particularly neuroscience—provides a foundation, not only for understanding morality, but also for improving it. In this essay I shall examine three books that are part of this trend: Experiments in Ethics, by Kwame Anthony Appiah; The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, by Sam Harris; and Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality, by Patricia S. Churchland. These three books put forward quite different perspectives about the relationship between science and morality, which suggests that neuroscience has nothing to add to our understanding of morality as a code of conduct that everyone should follow. However, neuroscience may help explain why some people behave as they do in situations that call for moral decisions or judgments.