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The Ethical Brain: The Science of Our Moral Dilemmas Reprint Edition

38 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060884734
ISBN-10: 0060884738
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Editorial Reviews


“writes with verve and expertise about the fascinating issues that will confront us as our knowledge of the brain expands.” (Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate and How the Mind Works)

“One of the most brilliant experimental neuroscientists in the world... This is a provocative and highly readable book.” (Tom Wolfe)

“An extraordinary book... lucid, provocative, and deeply interesting. This is important and fascinating.” (Kay Redfield Jamison)

“Wonderfully nourishing food for thought. Gazzaniga tackles some of the toughest ethical issues of our time with vigor, intelligence, insight.” (Diane Ackerman)

“The great frontier is the question of how we will deal with one another, this gets us on our way.” (Alan Alda)

“Highly informed account of how our brain forms our beliefs and how we can determine what beliefs serve us best.” (Robert Bazell, chief health and science correspondent, NBC News)

About the Author

Michael S. Gazzaniga is the director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the president of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute, a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, he is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and newly elected to serve on its Board of Directors. He is also past president of the Association of Psychological Science and served on the President's Bioethics Council from 2002-2008. The author of many popular science books, including Who's In Charge? (Ecco, 2011), Human (Ecco, 2008), Nature's Mind (Basic, 1992), and Mind Matters (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), he is featured regularly on Public Television and National Public Radio, and his research has been presented on NBC Nightly News and The Today Show. Gazzaniga lives in California with his wife. He has six children.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (May 9, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060884738
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060884734
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 71 people found the following review helpful By synapsekid on April 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Brain-Based Values

Patricia S. Churchland

Originally appeared in The American Scientist, July 2005.

Envision this scene: Socrates sits in prison, calmly awaiting execution, passing the time in philosophical discussions with students and friends, taking the occasion to inquire into the fundamentals of ethics: Where do moral laws come from? What is the root of moral motivation? What is the relation between power and morality? What is good? What is just?

Ever modest, Socrates confesses ignorance of the answers. The pattern of questioning strongly hints, however, that whatever it is that makes something good or just is rooted in the nature of humans and the society we make, not in the nature of the gods we invent. This does not make moral rules mere conventions, like using a fork or covering one's breasts. There is something about the facts concerning human needs that entails that some laws are better than others.

From the time of Socrates to the present, people have sought to give a natural basis for morals-that is, to understand how a moral statement about what ought to be done can rest on hard facts, albeit facts about conditions for civility and peace in social groups. How can ethical claims be more than mere conventions? How can such claims be rooted in facts about human nature but have the logical force of a command?

Developments in evolutionary biology have helped to explain the appearance of moral motivation in humans and in other eusocial animals-animals that display behavior involving cooperation, sharing, division of labor, reciprocation and deception. In these species, various forms of punishment (shunning, biting, banishing, scolding) are visited on those who threaten the social norms.
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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Zasloff on June 23, 2009
Format: Paperback
Michael Gazzaniga is one of the most renowned neuroscientists of our time, and rightfully so; his experiments regarding the role of the corpus callosum in connecting left- and right-brain functions really changed the way that we understand the brain. It should come as little surprise, then, that he was eventually rewarded with a seat on the President's Council on Bioethics.

It should also warn potential readers of the fact that a good neuroscientist does not make a very good ethicist -- or indeed, much of an ethicist at all. Each chapter of this book (except the last, about which more below) basically has the same format: there is a well-written survey of the developments in brain science that implicate a particular ethical issue, and then a couple of pages of Gazzaniga's "Perspectives."

But these Perspectives shed virtually no light on any of the issues. If anything, they show how little science can tell us about them. In the essay on "My Brain Made Me Do It," Gazzaniga canvasses the literature on what we can know about mental states from the neuroscience, and then concludes that mental state or guilt for legal purposes is not a scientific question because scientists investigate brains, not minds. True enough; and something that anyone with the most cursory knowledge of the field could have told him beforehand.

Often he just seems to make assumptions about things without making it clear. He favors drugs that enhance our intelligence or cognitive capabilities because you can't stop them and in any event, most people won't use them. But he is outraged at athletes using performance-altering drugs because in some sense that violates the "social contract" that we all accept.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By David Ludden on August 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
What can the study of the brain tell us about how we should live our lives? Quite a lot, argues Michael Gazzaniga in his new book The Ethical Brain. Gazzaniga is a professor of cognitive neuroscience (the study of the relationship between brain and behavior) at Dartmouth College and a highly respected researcher in his field. Thus, he was an obvious choice for inclusion in the President's Council on Bioethics, on which he has served since 2001. As a member of that council, he has witnessed "how the fear of science can stifle rather than further research" (pp. xv-xvi). In response, Gazzaniga argues for neuroethics, which he defines as "the philosophy of living informed by our understanding of underlying brain mechanisms" (p. xv, italics in original). Gazzaniga's bottom line, in most cases, is that we should allow science to advance without trepidation, trusting to an innate sense of morality that will guide us sensibly through the ethical issues raised by scientific advancements.

Beginning and end of life issues are at the forefront of current bioethical discussion. Defining the beginning of human life impinges on the important issues of abortion and stem-cell research. Under the traditional religious view that human life begins at conception, abortion is rightly viewed as equivalent to murder, and stem-cell research, which depends on the tissues of aborted fetuses, is morally reprehensible. Those who argue for reproductive freedom need to delay the conferral of humanity to the embryo if they want to maintain that abortion is not morally wrong, but there is no clear milestone during development where an obvious shift from non-humanity to humanity occurs.
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