His theory posited that the laws of nature were unalterable but if humans managed to keep their nature under some control, the impact of these laws could be eventually softened. Human ethics was a victory over a nasty, at times unruly and vicious, evolutionary process. Biologists who shared these views of human nature essentially believed that moral sensibilities were some sort of accidental by-product of a biological process, thus going against the way that biology had hardwired us. Furthermore, the debate on the history and evolution of moral reasoning has been usually interlaced with specific views of human nature. Some philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes believed that our social nature was rather artificial.
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His theory posited that the laws of nature were unalterable but if humans managed to keep their nature under some control, the impact of these laws could be eventually softened. Human ethics was a victory over a nasty, at times unruly and vicious, evolutionary process. Biologists who shared these views of human nature essentially believed that moral sensibilities were some sort of accidental by-product of a biological process, thus going against the way that biology had hardwired us.
Furthermore, the debate on the history and evolution of moral reasoning has been usually interlaced with specific views of human nature. Some philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes believed that our social nature was rather artificial. Social life did not necessarily come naturally to humans, but when the cost of strife in the state of nature become unbearable, humans had to establish communities by covenant.
We are, according to Waal, profoundly and thoroughly social and nothing in our minds and bodies is designed for life in the absence of others. Before the advent of neurophilosophy in the past four decades, the polemics on human nature and morality juxtaposed such views coming from evolutionary biologists, ethologists such as de Waal , and many political philosophers who conceptualized their own views of human nature highly pessimistic — Hobbes, or more optimistic — J.
These writings have largely shaped the debate but they lacked a fundamental element, which was the insight into the human brain itself. As new tools that permit such access emerged such as functional magnetic resonance imaging technology, which can map brain activity non-invasively , our understanding of human nature reached new frontiers.
The technologies that map the brain have allowed us to know more about the functioning of the most important organ of the human body. Insights from neuroscience revealed some surprising perspectives on human emotionality, cognition and morality. These findings have theoretical and practical implications. Neurophilosophy has practical implications for governance and policy-making: understanding the neurochemical underpinnings of human nature, our frailty and malleability, as well as our hardwiring for survival are critical for devising appropriate governance paradigms that correspond to the attributes of our nature.
The human amygdala, for example, which is often studied in emotional processes, has a crucial role in acquiring fear-conditioned responses — elements critical for survival. Nothing in neuroscience at least with the evidence acquired thus far suggests that humans are innately moral or immoral. We are only predisposed insofar as we have a deeply ingrained predisposition for survival and for pursuing actions that have a survival value.
A wealth of neuroscience research points to the shifting nature of moral decision-making, and that we cannot be consistently moral or immoral irrespective of circumstances. The neuroendocrine changes caused by stress influence functions in several brain regions that are involved in decision-making. Chronic stress leads to neural atrophy of the medial PFC and the dorsal medial striatum, a circuit that is known to be implicated in setting goals and goal-directed actions.
Stress also exaggerates the propensity for discounting future rewards in favor of smaller immediate rewards. Stress is the worst ally when it comes to decision-making. Image: Pixabay This means that, for example, in a conflict setting and when confronted with extreme deprivation and fear, humans will act with a view to meet immediate needs such as survival and be less focused on long-term goals. These examples are not exhaustive but they demonstrate the critical importance of circumstances in shaping human morality.
From a governance perspective, it is important to ensure the conditions for the most altruistic and moral traits of our nature to thrive but this cannot be taken for granted. It is only with institutions and policies that foster safety, peace and inclusion that the minimum requirements for human morality can be guaranteed.
This is primarily linked to the pursuit of survival of the self, which is a basic form of egoism. Revolutions and social movements are not only initiated by those who fear for their physical survival, but also by the disenfranchised and marginalized. This neurophilosophical account of human nature as emotional, amoral and egoistic is strongly premised on the underlying malleability of our nature. The human brain is defined by plasticity and our moral compass will oscillate in the direction dictated by circumstances, personal and political.
Having outlined these features of human nature, what can be said about the motivators of our existence?
In other words, what is it that drives us in the course of our existence? Although today, we may want to add neuroscience to the list. But because man is a more complex creature than animals, with needs that can never be fully gratified, four other desires stand out: acquisitiveness, rivalry, vanity and love of power. Important as other motives may be, the love of power outweighs them all. With insights from neuroscience, I theorized about five crucial factors that drive human nature, which I called theNeuro P5.
Transhumanism and the improvement of the human race through technology raises numerous ethical debates that will be far-reaching in the near future.
As biotechnologies, neurochemical enhancers or other devices appear, which promise to enhance one, more or all of these powerful motivators, we will be immediately drawn to those technologies, even if we recognize they may be deleterious for us in the long run. Enhancements can infringe upon our accepted norms of meritocracy and fairness, create hierarchies and divisions between the enhanced and the non-enhanced, as well as bring about ethical concerns regarding accountability and addiction in some cases.
However, the set of P5 human motivators is politically and philosophically relevant before that stage in evolution. Consensus and moderation are key factors to limit the concentration of power and tyranny. Image: EU Parliament. Recognizing the drivers in our nature, we must strive to create domestic and global governance frameworks that are accountable and can keep these powerful motivators in check.
This has been abundantly clear when it comes to political power. Neuroscience started to explain this in neurochemical terms.
And just like in addictive behavior, the more power one has, the more one seeks to increase it or at the very least, maintain it. That makes withdrawal from power extremely difficult and painful, and brutal leaders with unchecked and absolute power will do everything to maintain their status, even when it is clear the odds are set against them, and no matter what the human cost. It is only by consolidating accountable institutions, with checks-and-balances, accountability, transparency, and consensus in whatever form this may take — the format is less relevant than the substance , that the toxic and extreme manifestations of the drive for power can be limited and their consequences mitigated.
The same goes, to a large extent, for all the other forms of the Neuro P5 motivators of pleasure, profit, pride and permanency: it is through accountable and sustainable good governance that excesses of human nature can be kept at bay. The next post in this series will analyze International Relations from the perspective of neurophilosophy. The original text was published here. Nayef Al Rodhan.
The emotional amoral egoism of states
Hubris is exaggerated pride, often combined with arrogance. Excessive confidence and reassurance, inspired from his established conquests and grandiosity, further inflated by narcissism, led Napoleon to conduct a military campaign that could be allegedly classified as irrational because it took place against the backdrop of a series of warnings and unfavorable forecasts from his lieutenants. This claim can be countered on several fronts. The state can be a rational, self-interested, power-maximizing actor, yet deconstructing the discourse on state rationality and state egoism, defined as the pursuit of national interests, paints a more complex picture of the facets of state conduct. This takes us beyond the established IR dogma about the state. The modern state is described as a rational entity, necessary and instrumental to upholding law and order, and guarding against the demise to an infernal state of nature.
A Neuro-Philosophy of Human Nature: Emotional Amoral Egoism and the Five Motivators of Humankind
Attempts at moral education which fail to take into account fundamental neurochemical elements of human nature, are bound to prove unsuccessful. In some cases, these may even have undesired effects as they can lead to unreasonable expectations. Amorality of man Cumulative intellectual history offers a wide variety of characterizations of human nature, from those that attribute to human beings a full set of innate ideas to the well-known Lockean tabula rasa. The discussions have also often oscillated between polar contrasts, presenting human nature as either fundamentally good or bad. The origins of this debate go back to antiquity and various cultures and religions, and relatively recently to Rousseau and Hobbes. Rousseau posited that men, in the original state of nature, were basically good, unselfish and pure. In contrast, for Hobbes, in the state of nature man was intrinsically self-interested, acting for his own well-being and in a manner strictly determined by natural, pre-existent desires and needs to avoid discomfort.
Emotional Amoral Egoism
Facebook Twitter Pinterest WhatsApp Alexander Ewing In Napoleon Bonaparte, at the heights of his power, set out for the most adventurous, and ultimately fatal, military campaign. Hubris is exaggerated pride, often combined with arrogance. Excessive confidence and reassurance, inspired from his established conquests and grandiosity, further inflated by narcissism, led Napoleon to conduct a military campaign that could be allegedly classified as irrational because it took place against the backdrop of a series of warnings and unfavorable forecasts from his lieutenants. This claim can be countered on several fronts. This takes us beyond the established IR dogma about the state. The modern state is described as a rational entity, necessary and instrumental to upholding law and order, and guarding against the demise to an infernal state of nature. Locke promotes an optimistic view of human nature where the state of nature is conductive to natural rights, teaching mankind not to harm others and not to live in relationships of subordination.