Empathy, truth and freewill: Neuroscience or morality?


Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Imagine that our ability to empathise, to think ourselves into another person’s situation and be considerate of their feelings, is simply a function of the brain. Some of us have that ability, because our brains are so constructed that they allow us to empathise, and some do not. Those who do not are likely to end up committing horrific crimes. Imagine that our ability to tell the truth is compromised by the fact that telling the truth is based on memory and memory is always reconstructed in the brain. What we remember is partly recalled and partly imagined, and it is entirely possible to sincerely and honestly remember something that did not happen. Imagine that our decision to act in response to events is not a conscious choice, as we believe it to be, but is actually a subconscious decision made by the brain before we are consciously aware of it. This presentation will comprise a short video, produced by DWTV (German Television) in 2006, where these three ideas are given support by the emerging evidence of neuroscience. Moreover, the claim is made on the video, by a very well respected neuroscientist, that given we now know that certain deficits in the pre-frontal lobes lead to an inability to empathise and an almost certain life of crime, children should be screened early in life and those having the specific deficits should be eliminated from society. One obvious implication is that shortly we will no longer need moral education; we can all go home. What is going wrong here, or are the neuroscientists making these claims essentially correct? Can moral education really make a difference, or are we just kidding ourselves?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2007


Sankey, D. (2007, May). Empathy, truth and freewill: Neuroscience or morality? Paper presented at the Asian Pacific Network for Moral Education Second Regional Meeting, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China.


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