Home______Descartes' Error: Antonio Damasio, Somatic Markers, As-If Loops, & Moral Decision-Making
In my 12 March 2004 article, Evolutionary Psychology & Moral Dilemmas, I discussed the relationship of morality to emotions. I presented evidence of evolutionary psychology and brain research, which suggest that morality is often based on what feels good rather than on what is right. Moral judgements tend to be emotional rather than rational. I cited Eighteenth Century Scotsman, David Hume, who said people call an act good if it makes them feel good, not necessarily because it is rationally good. In that article I explained the findings with Magnetic Resonance Imaging of brains, which indicate that people turn away from difficult moral issues, and turn to moral choices that they are emotionally hard wired to handle. For example, when surfing TV channels, they might see an African child, belly swollen, and starving from hunger. They change stations rather than consider the moral implications of the scene, which might arouse troubling emotions and guilt if dwelt upon.
The disjuncture between morality and emotions has been studied by Antonio Damasio, a University of Iowa neuroscientist. Taking a different approach, he has examined the relationship of emotion to reasoning. He puts the lie to Rene Descartes' famous axiom, I think therefore I am (Cogito ergo sum) and demonstrates that logic is not independent of emotion, contrary to how Descartes would have it. Instead, in Descartes' Error, The Feeling of What Happens, Damasio asserts that rational decision-making cannot be done without emotions. More