Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality

Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality

Article excerpt

Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality Laurence Tancredi. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 10 0-521-86001-6; 226 PAGES, HARDCOVER, $28.99

Is moral behavior determined by nature or nurture? This is the question addressed by Laurence Tancredi in his book Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality. Tancredi contends for a biological basis for moral behavior, but his evidence is inconclusive and unconvincing.

As a psychiatrist, lawyer and consultant in forensic psychiatry, Tancredi believes that the human brain, which evolved through natural selection, now shapes our moral responses. He colors this argument with fascinating anecdotes from his repertoire of experiences with criminal minds.

While acknowledging the complex relationship of nature to nurture in the arena of moral behavior, Tancredi attempts to demonstrate that nurture is subservient to our "hardwiring," thereby challenging traditional notions of moral agency. His arguments, though, are weakly substantiated and often bolstered by speculation as he establishes theories of normal functioning on isolated instances of aberrancy. For instance, he believes that lying is a hardwired product of natural selection, but then states "humans can't lie without some alarm going off" (p. 120), indicating that this behavior is not a hardwired "normality." He argues that moral difficulties involving the misuse of money are due to the "nature of money itself" and the "way the human brain responds to it" (p. 137), ignoring the fact that money is a social construct with no "nature" of its own. He distinguishes between mind and brain while never adequately defining that distinction. Moreover, his belief in hardwiring is inconsistent with his stated beliefs regarding neuroplasticity. Unsurprisingly, he treats the brain in isolation from the body, attributing the "flight or fight" response to the amygdala alone, ignoring the crucial role of the adrenal cortex, and distorting the reality of our bodily integrity. …

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