Science is investigating the biological roots of empathy, altruism and cooperation to discover whether we possess an innate moral grammar, much like language, or whether morality arises from the interactions among biological and social systems.
In this presentation at the 92nd Street Y, philosophers Patricia Churchland and Daniel Dennett, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, and evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser discussed the science of right and wrong, and explored how our scientific understanding of morality may affect society, from shaping justice systems to deciding whether to engage in wars or to assist others in economic and humanitarian struggles. The event was moderated by author and journalist Jon Meacham.
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Jon Meacham is the managing editor of Newsweek magazine, a bestselling author, and a commentator on politics, history, and faith in America. His books include Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship and American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation.
Neuroethicist Patricia Churchland explores the complex philosophical and ethical impact that the rapidly expanding field of neuroscience has on society. She is the President’s Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla.
Antonio Damasio is one of the world’s leading neurologists and neuroscientists and has made seminal contributions to the understanding of how the brain processes emotion, decision, and consciousness. Some of these have been described in his books Descartes’ Error, The Feeling of What Happens, and Looking for Spinoza, which have been translated into over 30 languages. Dr. Damasio is the recipient of numerous academic honors and awards, including the 2005 Asturias Prize in Science and Technology and the 2004 Signoret Prize, which he shared with his wife Hanna Damasio. He is David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California.
Daniel C. Dennett is a University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, as well as Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He previously taught at U.C. Irvine from 1965 to 1971, when he moved to Tufts, where he has taught ever since. His books include: Content and Consciousness, Brainstorms, Elbow Room, The Intentional Stance, Consciousness Explained, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Kinds of Minds, and Brainchildren; Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness, Breaking the Spell and Freedom Evolves. He’s the author of over four hundred scholarly articles on various aspects on the mind. His most recent books are Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking and, with Linda LaScola, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind. Dennett received his B.A. in philosophy from Harvard.