Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition

Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition Review

In her brilliant work Touching a Nerve, Patricia S. Churchland, the distinguished founder of neurophilosophy, drew from scientific research on the brain to understand its philosophical and ethical implications for identity, consciousness, free will, and memory. In Conscience, she explores how moral systems arise from our physical selves in combination with environmental demands.


All social groups have ideals for behavior, even though ethics vary among different cultures and among individuals within each culture. In trying to understand why, Churchland brings together an understanding of the influences of nature and nurture. She looks to evolution to elucidate how, from birth, our brains are configured to form bonds, to cooperate, and to care. She shows how children grow up in society to learn, through repetition and rewards, the norms, values, and behavior that their parents embrace.


Conscience delves into scientific studies, particularly the fascinating work on twins, to deepen our understanding of whether people have a predisposition to embrace specific ethical stands. Research on psychopaths illuminates the knowledge about those who abide by no moral system and the explanations science gives for these disturbing individuals.


Churchland then turns to philosophy—that of Socrates, Aquinas, and contemporary thinkers like Owen Flanagan—to explore why morality is central to all societies, how it is transmitted through the generations, and why different cultures live by different morals. Her unparalleled ability to join ideas rarely put into dialogue brings light to a subject that speaks to the meaning of being human.

Title:Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition
Edition Language:English

    Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition Reviews

  • Ryan Boissonneault

    When thinking about morality, people generally make two mistakes: 1) that moral certainty can be achieved by consulting some external, objective source, and 2) that if this is not the case, and moral ...

  • Bob

    Summary: Exploring the neuroscience of our sense of right and wrong, integrating our knowledge of neurophysical causation, social factors, and philosophy, arguing that moral norms are based in our bra...

  • Dan Graser

    UC Professor of Philosophy Patricia Churchland is at all times a masterful writer with important issues to discuss and the necessary linguistic and intellectual tools with which to discuss them. This ...

  • Anastasia

    A pretty enjoyable read but it was different from what I expected - I've been swayed by a lot of argumentation from both Paul and Patricia Churchland (definitely favourite power couple material), and ...

  • Prooost Davis

    The title would perhaps more precisely be "The Biological Origins of Moral Intuition," but maybe the actual title has more mystery to attract the buyer.Patricia Churchland is a philosopher who got int...

  • Roo Phillips

    An interesting mixture of philosophy and neuroscience. Churchland takes a cautious dive into some of the latest research in neuroscience. She tries to connect the research to our understanding of mora...

  • John Kaufmann

    Like her earlier book Touching a Nerve: Our Brains, Our Selves, I found this a very interesting read and learned a lot. But also like that previous book, I find her writing and arguments very subtle, ...

  • Chunyang Ding

    Not a bad book, but also not a good one. The first half of the book seems misleading, as the premise is a neurological understanding of moral philosophy, yet the neurology present is fundamental evolu...

  • Nancy Garon

    Amazing book! I love how she integrated a variety of research areas....

  • David

    Probably the best book I've read on morality so far. The book is well-written and easy to understand. If only all philosophers wrote this way. She actually helped me to see the flaws with moral skepti...