Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, May 9, 2008

Morality--Reason versus Religion?

This study sounds very interesting, but I think there is a problem with its analysis. The subjects' brain activity was monitored to see if people made decisions based on emotion or reason.

This study, reported in the journal Science, suggests that emotion outweighs reason when fairness is at issue, said Michael Gill, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Arizona.

In the study, most people's insula (a brain area "associated with emotions") lighted up when making a moral decision, but several people's insula did not.

``What this suggests is that when you see unfairness, it really bothers you, it makes you feel negative about it, and that reaction pushes you away from unfairness,'' said Quartz, an associate professor in the division of humanities and social sciences, in a telephone interview. ``Emotions seem to keep us in check, and some people don't get this response as strongly.''

But aren't they contradicting themselves? People make decisions based on emotion--except when they don't? Because another possibility is that those people have so thoroughly squashed their emotions that their insula doesn't react. People are not acting out of morality, they are acting out of empathy. And those whom the researchers say act out of reason are simply repressing their emotions to the point that they have none.

The Bloomberg article doesn't say if the scientists interviewed the non-responders to find out why they didn't respond; it seems the study might just establish the role of emotion in moral choices.

People often say we need religion to ensure morality, since moral decisions are based on teachings of God's Law. Instead, moral decisions seem to be based on emotion, and I suspect that is the case in all moral decisions, and that we use reason mostly to add authority to our decisions, just as religious people use God as the authority backing their moral decisions. It certainly explains how self-professed religious people manage to avoid actually following religious teachings about hate, money and humility.

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