February 14, 2008

At the crossroads of culture and science -- symposium on the mind and morality

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The Project on Ethics and Cognitive Science will make its official debut at Case Western Reserve University when it presents the daylong symposium, "Morality and Mind: Ethics at the Crossroads of Culture and Science." The free, public event takes place Friday, February 29, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the George S. Dively Building, 11240 Bellflower Rd., and includes a continental breakfast and lunch.

The project is a new interdisciplinary initiative underway in the cognitive sciences, religious studies and philosophy departments. Its mission is to investigate the roots of morality and ethical thinking and whether the origins of morality come from science of the brain, religious and philosophical teachings or a combination of all.

William Deal, professor of religious studies and one of the organizers of the project, teaches ethics from a comparative philosophical and religious perspective. "Traditional ethics presupposes, but seldom deeply examines, issues of human psychology and the ways humans function in the world," he said.

Deal added that rights and free will must have some biological limits and constraints related to the physical brain.

"The idea that we can simply reason our way to moral truth is significantly challenged by recent research in cognitive science and evolutionary biology. The Project on Ethics and Cognitive Science aims to explore these issues," he said.

Perspectives from the humanities and sciences will highlight the program in presentations by four eminent scholars and researchers in the field of cognitive science and the liberal arts. They will discuss some of the latest research relating to how the structure of the brain informs the way humans respond to the world, a discussion of whether humans are born moral or whether morality is learned through culture or religion, and what role human emotions play in moral decision making.

The speakers are:

  • Pascal Boyer, the Henry Luce Professor of Individual and Collective Memory at Washington University in St. Louis, does research in the Memory and Development Lab on how cultural rituals and norms are acquired and the role of evolution in that process.
  • John Doris, associate professor in the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program and philosophy department at Washington University in St. Louis, examines human responsibility. He has written the book, A Natural History of the Self.
  • Jesse Prinz, the John J. Rogers Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and Their Perceptual Basis (2002), Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion (2004), and The Emotional Construction of Morals (2007). His research interests intersect with the fields of cognitive science, philosophy of psychology, philosophy of language, moral psychology and aesthetics.
  • Stephen Stich, professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Cognitive Science at Rutgers University, won the Jean Nicod Prize for his research and gave a series of lectures in Paris, France, called "Moral Theory Meets Cognitive Science: How the Cognitive Science Can Transform Traditional Debates" (2007). He is the author of several books, including his latest, The Innate Mind: Foundations and the Future Volume 3 (Evolution and Cognition) written with Peter Caruthers and Stephen Laurence.

Moderating discussions following the presentations will be Chris Meyers of the department of philosophy and religion at the University of Southern Mississippi. Deal, Anthony Jack from cognitive science and Sara Waller from philosophy are the organizers behind the project, launched with support from the Case Western Reserve Presidential Initiative Fund.

While the program is open to the public, online registration is recommended and due by February 25.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, February 14, 2008 08:04 AM | News Topics: Conferences/Symposia, Ethics, Events, Faculty, HeadlinesMain, Lectures/Speakers, Provost Initiatives

Case Western Reserve University is committed to the free exchange of ideas, reasoned debate and intellectual dialogue. Speakers and scholars with a diversity of opinions and perspectives are invited to the campus to provide the community with important points of view, some of which may be deemed controversial. The views and opinions of those invited to speak on the campus do not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration or any other segment of the university community.