toilet morality

The Moral Brain

Patricia Churchland

What are the origins of the morals we live by? Pioneering neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland dismisses reason and religion, and traces the roots of conscience to our evolved biology.

  • Patricia Churchland 2015
    Patricia Churchland

    Neurophilosophy pioneer


About the Course


For as long as we have been able to think, we have grappled with the following questions: what is morality, and where does it come from? Is it possible that an experience so mystical could have physical origins? And could it even arise from evolution and natural selection?

In this course, Neurophilosopher and Professor Emerita at the University of California, San Diego, Patricia Churchland, introduces her theory of the physical origins of morality and conscience. Professor Churchland discusses how the evolution of warm-blooded animals led to a hormonally close bond between parent and offspring in a way that had never been seen in the animal kingdom before. It is this phenomenon, she argues, that resulted in the morality we observe today, both in humans and in other animals. Ultimately, Churchland’s hypothesis is that morality isn’t quite as mystical as we once thought. 


By the end of the course, you will have learned:

  • Darwin's view on morality and conscience
  • Evolution and the importance of being warm-blooded on the development of morality
  • The role that oxytocin plays in developing morality
  • How the body and brain are chemically integrated
  • Cooperation instances between warm-blooded animals in the wild
  • How our experience shapes sociality into specific habits and preferences using the reward system
  • How expectations affect the satisfaction of an outcome


As part of the course there are in-video quiz questions to consolidate your learning, and discussion boards to have your say.

IAI Academy courses are designed to be challenging but accessible to the interested student. No specialist knowledge is required.


About the Instructor

  • Patricia Churchland

    Patricia Churchland is a decorated philosopher famous for illuminating the intersection of neuroscience and ethics. For decades Churchland has been helping to redefine our understanding of the human mind, and has been awarded the MacArthur Prize, The Rossi Prize for Neuroscience and the Prose Prize for Science.


Course Syllabus

  • Part One: Moral Monkeys
    Where does morality come from? Churchland traces the evolutionary emergence of caring and cooperation.
  • Part Two: The Cultural Conscience
    How does culture shape morality? Churchland reconciles cultural diversity with shared biology.