Moral Values and the Right Hemisphere

From The Master and His Emissary, Iain Mcgilchrist

“Moral values are not something that we work out rationally on the principle of utility, or any other principle, for that matter, but are irreducible aspects of the phenomenal world, like colour.  I agree with Max Scheler, and for that matter with Wittgenstein, that moral value is a form of experience irreducible to any other kind, or accountable for on any other terms; and I believe this perception underlies Kant’s derivation of God from the existence of moral values, rather than moral values from the existence of a God.  Such values are linked to the capacity for empathy, not reasoning and moral judgements are not deliberative, but unconscious and intuitive, deeply bound up with our emotional sensitivity to others.  Empathy is intrinsic to morality.”

“Patients with lesions in the ventromedial frontal lobes are impulsive, fail to foresee consequences and are emotionally disengaged from others; in particular the right ventromedial frontal cortex, which has rich interconnections with limbic structures, is critical to every aspect of moral and social behaviour.  Moral judgement involves a complex right-hemisphere network, particularly the right centromedial and orbitofrontal cortex, as well as the amygdala in both hemispheres.  Damage in the right prefrontal cortex may lead to frank psychopathic behaviour.”

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