THURSDAY, February 2, 2006
Session 1: The Concept of Human Dignity
Patricia Churchland, B. Phil., Professor and Chair, Department
of Philosophy, University of California at San Diego, San Diego,
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: The first
session this morning is a continuation of our discussion on the
question of dignity. As you know, we've been looking at it.
The Council has used the term in a number of its publications, explicitly
and implicitly, and we thought it well to examine the spectrum of
meanings from wide points of view.
This morning we have two points of view presented. We'll
start first with the representation our first speaker will give
us, from the point of view of philosophy and philosophy of neurobiology,
looking at the question of human dignity.
You have the curricula of all the speakers and I'm not going
to vex them or put them through the déja-vu phenomenon, hearing
themselves described again and asking who is it that they're
talking about. So if you make reference to the text, I think you'll
have it straight and in no way filtered through my aging cerebrum.
So we'll start, immediately, Dr. Churchland. The floor is
yours. We'll follow the usual procedure. Following Dr. Churchland's
presentation, we'll have an open discussion by the Council Members
and we'll begin immediately to try to keep ourselves on schedule.
DR. CHURCHLAND: Thank you so much and thank you
so much for inviting me to be here. It's a great privilege
to be here and I come with good wishes from my colleagues in California.
I looked over the working paper prepared by Adam Schulman and
this was after I had accepted your invitation and I was really quite
daunted, because it's such a wonderful document that I felt
I really might not have much to add.
So I spent a certain amount of time thinking how I could be most
useful to the Committee. And my view was that it might be better,
rather than to — let's see now, all right, how do we do
this? There you are.
Rather than to focus on a discussion of the concept of dignity,
to just sort of remind ourselves, I think what we all know is that
categories including categories about ethics and politics, as well
as categories about the natural world, are learned from examples.
They have a radial structure by which I mean there are sort of central
exemplars and then further out from the central exemplars are cases
where some people think they fall in the categories. Some people
think that they don't. And there may not be agreement.
The other thing about categories that we all know is that they
change over time. When I looked in the OED as to what Chaucer thought
dignity meant, it's really a little bit different, I think,
from what Shakespeare meant later on and probably also what we mean
Schulman noticed this, of course, in his discussion of dignity
and so he asked the question what is essential to human dignity.
And I thought perhaps it might be most useful to the Committee if
I approached this in a slightly indirect way. And the perspective
that I'm going to take will be the perspective of biology or
more specifically neurobiology.
And the first point that I want to make has also been made by
many other people, including Mike Gazzaniga, who is here, which
is that moral dispositions are part of our human nature. Second,
I'm going to make several historical points on medical technologies.
And finally, I'm going to draw a connection between Aquinas
and modern neuroembryology.
Moral dispositions are part of who we are. It appears from everything
we know from both neurobiology, but certainly evolutionary biology
and ethology that we social groups have been selected for, that
individuals who had social traits such that they could cooperate,
share food, share in defense and so forth, did very well. And consequently,
the disposition, via the genes, is in many social animals to behave
well towards one another, care for one another, and whatever is
necessary in order for traits to propagate through or spread through
And certainly one is that people have to — or animals have
to be able to identify one another. They have to be able to cooperate
and to compromise. They also have to be able to detect cheating
and to be willing to punish the cheaters.
We know, of course, that there is an interaction between genes
and culture and between culture and learning, that the genes do
not wire up the brain for specific standards of behavior, but that
standards of behavior are typically learned by the young in the
We also know now that learning involves changes in gene expression,
and that certain properties have to be in place in the neonate in
order for social dispositions to flourish, for example, it's
now known, although this is not surprising, that levels of oxytocin
vary as a function of infant fondling and that levels of oxytocin
and consequently levels of — or population density of oxytocin
receptors are extremely important for social cognition, generally,
and for social behavior, in particular.
So that's just the very general kind of background that I
want to give you about the neurobiology or more generally, the biology
of social behavior. It's the particular standards that vary
from culture to culture and indeed vary within a culture over time
that I now want to turn to.
There have been profound changes in moral beliefs about certain
kinds of practices. At various points in our own culture, public
executions were common as was child labor, slave labor, genital
mutilation and lack of female suffrage. This, of course, has changed,
and I just use this to remind us that, in fact, child labor was
And I want now to specifically address, not just changes in attitudes
toward certain institutions, but also I want to look a little bit
more closely at changes in attitudes toward specific medical technologies.
Now what I'm going to say hereafter really does require quite
a lot of commentary and I was a little bit reluctant to send out
the slides in their naked form because I can't provide the commentary
unless I'm actually here.
So I want to provide some commentary, but I also want to invite
commentary on this and Ed Pellegrino has already been very helpful
in making some observations to me.
All right, a very general background point, and it looks like
the following, that when humans are ignorant of the causes and the
mechanisms of a particular phenomenon they can't control it,
whether it's the weather or certain kinds of diseases or what
have you. And when we are ignorant and we cannot control it, we
tend to acquiesce and we see the gods or God as the thing that is
in control of it.
As we acquire knowledge, we often acquire control and it's
not uncommon and it's quite understandable that through this
transition, we tend to see technology as usurping the proper role
of God. And this was, for example, true with regard to anesthesia.
Many people felt that the experience of pain, especially in childbirth,
was entirely appropriate and that it would be usurping God's
proper role to intervene in amelioration of pain in childbirth.
But when the benefits of a particular technology become well understood,
when those benefits are seen to be dramatic and to overwhelm the
particular objections of tradition, then we tend to see a moral
reversal. Not just a wholesale reversal, but what typically happens,
and of course, we've seen this in our own time with genetic
engineering, limits are negotiated. We say that the technology
has a particular sphere within which it can operate and then we
put limits and regulations on the development of that technology.
And that's, of course, very true of anesthesia. You can't
just haul off and anesthetize people or yourself willy-nilly. It
has to be very highly regulated and highly controlled.
So I want to remind you that there has been opposition and reservation
on the part of various religious groups throughout history with
regard to medical technologies. At the same time, and this I couldn't
actually put in the slides, it's very important to understand
that there have been just the same, many religious groups who have
been wholly supportive. And so often, the controversy has really
been within religions as opposed to a controversy between religion
and the secular world.
In the 18th century, once smallpox vaccination was discovered,
it was bitterly opposed by various sects, although so far as I could
tell, not officially, for about 30 years. Actually, it extended
much beyond that, well into the late 19th century in Montreal in
Canada. French theologians in the Sorbonne objected, English theologians
objected and I just mentioned two papers that were really quite
influential. And there really was very little religious basis for
the objection to smallpox, but roughly speaking, people referred
to those who did oppose, referred to the text where it is said "He
hath torn and he will heal" which of course, is very open-ended
and ambiguous after all.
But the relief from smallpox via vaccinations was, of course,
extraordinary. At one point there were roughly 1 in 13 children
who died every year of smallpox. Within a period of about 20 years,
that completely changed, and as we know within our own time, it's
extraordinarily rare to meet anyone who has ever known anyone with
smallpox or even very few of us who have had a smallpox vaccination,
although I bet you have and I certainly did too.
And now we still see reservations about other kinds of vaccines.
For example, the Focus On The Family organization is concerned about
the vaccine for cervical cancer which we have reason to believe
is about 100 percent effective. The opposition seems to derive
mainly from concern about premarital sex and especially about sex
amongst unmarried adolescents.
I'm not putting this here to say that this is an inappropriate
concern, but only that we do still have, based on religious concerns,
opposition to certain kinds of vaccines.
Now the issue of dissection is slightly more controversial than
the slides would suggest. There was certainly opposition to the
notion of dissection of cadavers. I think Ed Pellegrino can probably
give you a more detailed account of this reservation than I can,
but certainly there were people in the Renaissance, for example,
Leonardo, who was — who had dissected bodies and who was scorned
or condemned for having dissected bodies, dead bodies.
Now I want to turn to the issue of anesthesia. Various kinds
of anesthetics have been used for a long time, including especially
I think alcohol. But of course, it was in the 18th and 19th centuries
that the really important discoveries were made regarding ether
and chloroform and then, of course, later in the 20th century.
The main issue about the use of anesthesia concerned childbirth.
The argument was, and again this is from only some religious orders
and opposed by others, the argument was that in Genesis 3:16 it
is said to the woman — this, of course, is after the expulsion
from the Garden of Eden — to the woman God said, "I will
greatly multiply your pain in childbearing, in pain shall you bring
And the painting that you see here is actually a medieval painting
of a woman undergoing a Caesarian section without any sort of anesthesia,
typically, of course, they died.
In America, William Thomas Green Morton pioneered the surgical
use of ether in 1846 and in Scotland, it was James Young Simpson
who discovered the use of chloroform.
There's quite a lot of documentation regarding opposition
in England and in Scotland to the use of anesthesia and there was
a lot of debate about it. And interestingly, still some of Simpson's
letters are extant and we can see something of the nature of the
debate from his letters. So I give to you just one very small quote
from a clergyman in Scotland who wrote to Simpson arguing "that
chloroform is a decoy of Satan. It appears to be a blessing, but
it will harden society and rob God of the deepest cries for help."
Simpson tried to respond to these arguments, but of course, eventually
the use of chloroform and ether in childbirth was deemed to be such
a blessing and such a boon that these sorts of arguments really
just kind of faded away. And I think it's hard for many people
to realize how deep in spirit the opposition to anesthesia was during
Pope Pius XII, 1956, condemns transplants from living donors and
Ed Pellegrino informs me that this was only if the life of the person
was put in danger. In other words, it was a very reasonable opposition
to the idea that one might sell one's own body in order to provide
organs for someone else. Nevertheless, this was interpreted by
many, both within and outside of the Catholic Church as a condemnation
of the use of organ transplants at all and especially the use of
organ transplants from living donors.
And what's so interesting about all of these cases is how
our attitudes really shifted. And it almost shifted imperceptibly
so that now it is considered a tremendous benefit if a twin provides
a kidney to another twin.
And so now we turn to the issue of blastocysts and the use of
embryos in stem cell research with the possibility, a possibility
of great benefits to humans. And I'm going to back up a little
bit here and address what I think many of the scientists indicated
they did not want to address and that is, is the conceptus or the
blastocyst a person? Now in his book, The Ethical Brain,
Mike Gazzaniga makes a number of very useful points, but one of
the very useful points is on this particular issue. He points out
that continuities are typical in biology and that very often we
can, nonetheless, distinguish endpoints of a continuum, especially
in those instances where we need some kinds of rules or standards.
Plato actually made the same point. He said that there is something
called the fallacy of the beard. And the fallacy goes like this.
One might argue that there is no sharp distinction between the clean
shaven man and the man with the full bushy beard because at every
point there is the tiniest increment of length of hair. And if
one were to argue then that there's no difference between the
clean shaven and the bearded man, argued Plato, that would be wrong.
It would make no sense and consequently, we should be able, even
if we can't make precise distinctions, we should be able to
make rough distinctions that make sense.
And in his book, Gazzaniga essentially argues the same thing.
The blastocyst may have the potential to be a person, but is not
yet, in fact, a person and we should be able to distinguish between
a conceptus and a fully formed human that is born at term.
We may not be able to draw precise distinction as to exactly where
it becomes a human, but we can draw a rough and useful distinction
and I'm going to come back to that point in a moment.
And just to add my own point here, I think we need to be terribly
careful about the idea that if something is a potential X, then
we need to treat it as an X. I am a potential cadaver. I am potential
fertilizer, but I would not want you to treat me as a cadaver or
And the point I really want to make now draws on Aquinas. Aquinas,
arguably the greatest Catholic theologian of all time, had a very
interesting view about human nature and he addressed very specifically
because he was tremendously interested in the biology of all of
this, about when the rational soul, meaning the soul that is capable
of true mental thought, when the rational soul enters the fetus.
And this was in his famous tract, Summa Contra Gentiles.
Now what he thought was that there are essentially a variety of
stages and that at the very earliest stage what he would call the
conceptus, which he really just thought of as the sperm now in a
nice environment because he didn't really know that the egg
contributed anything, partly because they didn't know there
were eggs. That early on the conceptus has a vegetative or nutritive
soul meaning that it can grow and that it can develop. Later, it
has a sensory soul, meaning that it can respond to sensory information.
And significantly later, it has the capacity for thought. And he
thought each of these stages had to be tied to the appropriate bodily
organs that were in place at that time.
And part of the reasoning behind this was he wanted to, as Aristotle
did, to be able to explain why it is that rocks and streams and
trees do not have rational souls. And the argument is really very
interesting and very modern. The argument is they do not have the
appropriate organs. And they both realized that for rational soul
the appropriate organ was the brain.
And so I'm just going to put in this quote which I added on
the plane yesterday just to indicate to you how really advanced
in his thinking Aquinas was: "The vegetative soul which is
present first when the embryo lives the life of a plant is corrupted
so that it has its time and then a more perfect soul follows which
is at once both nutritive and sensory and then the embryo lives
the life of an animal." (It's not yet a person.) "With
its corruption, the rational soul follows infused from without.
Now we may not think the rational soul is infused from without
or we may, it doesn't really matter to the argument. In any
case, it was his view that males at 40 days had a rational soul
and that females at 90 days had a rational soul. I'm not sure
why the difference, but in a certain sense, that's an empirical
question and what he would have said is that's a purely empirical
question and on which he would be happy to be wrong.
And as I said with regard to the current controversy about stem
cells, I actually feel very optimistic, optimistic because of the
history of medical technologies and the changes in attitudes that
we have seen historically toward medical technologies. And in concluding
then I want to just say a little bit about how maybe we can move
from the controversies themselves to negotiating various kinds of
regulations, agreements about how to do it so that although we might
all need to compromise a little bit, we can move forward.
Colin Blakemore is the head of the Medical Research Council in
the United Kingdom and he is the head of United Kingdom regulation
of stem cell research. In 2001, the House of Commons prepared legislation
that allowed human fertilization and embryology for research purposes
to go on, but they introduced regulations. And amongst other things,
the regulations prohibit reproductive cloning, but it allows for
new knowledge and applications.
The House of Lords, the second house, provided bills for a stem
cell bank which set down very strict codes of conduct under the
regulation of a steering committee. So very roughly this is how
this looks. So there's a stem cell steering committee and these
groups are all independent of one another. And this is extremely
important, I think, in order for the researchers and the donors,
for example, to be kept separate.
So in the United Kingdom, the stem cell bank roughly works as
follows. There are separate facilities for research grade and clinical
grade stem cell lines. The banks and the supplies are ethically
sourced. They are quality controlled adult, fetal and embryonic
stem cell lines. They will be accessible to people in the Academy
and in industry and overseas, but only with proper license and accreditation
and all of this is dependent on the approval of a completely independent
steering committee in order for you to have access.
Now I am not sure that this is exactly the pattern that we might
want to follow. I think it will be important for us to see where
the strengths are in the U.K. regulatory system, where the weaknesses
are, to develop our own regulations that suit us and our particular
needs and our particular constituencies. But I do have —
and this is why I'm optimistic — I do have the feeling
that, as an understanding of the benefits increases, and as an understanding
of what the conceptus really is and what a five-day-old embryo really
is, that attitudes will change. We will see that there are enormous
benefits to be had here and, like any other technology, as long
as we regulate it and regulate it well, starting cautiously and
moving forward, I think we can do it and I think we can do it well.
So to sort of wrap up and I do apologize for sort of going over
all of this very fast, I think there is a way to go forward. I
think we can learn from the past. I think we can see ways in which
small steps can be made. We need to respect one another's points
of view, but we need to listen and we need to be able to compromise
with each other. But let's not simply prohibit all of it.
Let's just find a way to do it right. Thank you.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank
you very much, Professor Churchland. Professor Churchland's
remarks are now open for discussion. If you'll just signify
your willingness to comment by turning on the light and we'll
try to keep everyone in our minds. If we miss you, get our attention.
PROF. MEILAENDER: I have some other more specific
questions I may get a chance to get to later, but there's just
a general question I wanted to ask first because I'm puzzled.
I didn't think that we'd asked you to give us a suggestion
about a way forward. I thought we had asked you to clarify the
concept of dignity. And I guess I'd like you to say a little
bit about what your remarks have to do with the concept of dignity
because I'm sort of baffled by that.
DR. CHURCHLAND: I think that's a fair question.
And let me try to address it in the following way. I began with
the notion of the concept of dignity and what I really wanted to
stress is that it's not that there is a kind of language-independent
or community-independent notion of dignity that lives in Plato's
realm, that, as I tried to sort of indicate and I do apologize for
doing it in a rush, is that the notion of dignity changes over time.
But I suspect and I don't know whether Mike would agree with
me on this, but I suspect that the fundamental dispositions to respect
one another, cooperate with one another are very biologically deep
and if perhaps that's where dignity resides, then fine.
My guess is that that's where at least the notion that I understand
by respect and I think that's pretty close to dignity, I think
that's where that resides. And I think that's probably
why although we see enormous differences cross-culturally in specific
standards, how justice should be done and whether you should have
trial by jury or trial by ordeal. We see all those kinds of differences.
But fundamentally across all cultures you see this capacity and
this willingness for respect for one another, for understanding,
cooperation, sharing and also for willingness to punish the miscreants.
So I have the feeling that the notion of dignity is very deep.
I think that it is part of our social, our biological social disposition.
PROF. MEILAENDER: Well, there is an awful lot
of human history that might suggest the opposite about that willingness
to respect each other, but if I understand your answer, then what
you're saying is there really isn't some concept such as
human dignity. It's just that we're more or less wired
to listen to and respect each other. That's what the concept
means, neither more nor less than that as far as you're concerned?
DR. CHURCHLAND: Well, not exactly because I think
built on this fundamental platform, of course, different cultures
at different times add their own pieces and their own dimensions.
One of the things that I did in struggling with how best to address
the issue of dignity was just to talk to a whole lot of people outside
of the Academy because they tend to — anyway.
And so I talked to all kinds of people and asked them really what
they had in mind. And the thing that I found very striking about
this little piece of sociology which is not a controlled experiment,
is that people did exactly what the OED does. It starts —
they start by giving you examples. One person, a corporate lawyer,
began by talking about dignity under conditions of terrible humiliation.
And so he talked about Martin Luther King. Other people talked
about dignity in the context of having the freedom to pursue one's
talents and choices. And then they would tell a story.
And so what I got was essentially a series of exemplars. This
is what I think dignity is. And then if I would press them, but
what do you really mean by that, they'd say well, I don't
know, which is, of course, the right answer. So that when you look
at the OED, what do you see? Well, they start with Chaucer and
then they just move on through a series of authors where they take
sentences out of a particular text where the issue of dignity arises.
And you can see development. These aren't exactly the same
in every instance. But the core of it all, I think, is the ethical
brain. It is what makes us want to cooperate, to want to be part
of the human community. Where that breaks down, I think, traditionally,
has been in-group versus out-group. So we are prepared to be cooperative
and to compromise and share within the group, but not so to the
And as the human community has come to know each other better,
those sorts of barriers have broken down and now people are quite
ready to be kind and cooperative and helpful to people in the —
as it were, the out group.
So I'm sorry if I disappointed you. But my aim was to try
to go at the notion of dignity, as I think it really lives and breathes
and then to suggest that because that notion changes, because attitudes
towards medical technology change, so I think that we can move forward.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Gil has
PROF. MEILAENDER: Just a very quick —
I have to say I still don't see that as helping too much clarify
on the concept of dignity, but I may come back to some other questions
later, if I have a chance. But I just think that's an astonishing
account of the world in which we live. It bears almost no relation
to empirical reality as far as I can see it.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Carson.
DR. CARSON: Thank you. That was really quite
interesting. I have one observation and then one question. In
the example you gave of the cadaver and the fertilizer, that you
were a potential cadaver or potential fertilizer and I could see
where you were going with that in terms of the embryo being a potential
human being. However, it seems to me that the direction is incorrect.
If, in fact, the fertilizer or the cadaver were potentially going
to become a human being, I think we might treat it differently and
we certainly wouldn't be willing to disperse it or cut it apart
if we knew it was going to become a human being. So I think probably
you have to reverse the order of the sequence.
Now the question is in terms of the soul that you discuss briefly
and to greater detail in the writing that you provided, you indicated
pretty much that there really is no such thing. And my question
is, obviously, if there is such a thing it would be relatively intangible
and very hard to define.
What evidence would be acceptable to you that there was such a
DR. CHURCHLAND: Ah, well, I think that's
a great question. If there were a research program that could show
me that, for example, you needed to use the notion of a soul in
order to explain say decision-making or you needed the notion of
a soul in order to explain perception, then of course, I would be
persuaded. I mean I think it's an empirical question and so
it just seems to me — but, of course, it's also a very
private matter. But it does seem to me that the idea of a nonphysical
soul that separates from the physical body is something that's
very hard for us to countenance because we know that, for example,
when the brain is in the body and certain parts of it are damaged,
you lose visual perception or you lose memory or as Mike's work
shows that if the brain is split and you have two halves, to some
degree they can act independently.
And I mean I think the split brain work in particular, partly
because it was early in cognitive neuroscience, really made us realize
that there's something very fundamental about what the brain
is doing in all of these mental functions and that probably the
idea of a nonphysical soul which, of course, Aquinas knew was a
problematic idea and basically in a certain sense argued against.
This is not to say that there isn't something that lives beyond.
I mean I think what does live beyond are our colleagues and our
children and our culture and our ideas. And I think it's also
quite possible to have a very, so to speak, spiritual existence
in contact with the natural world and with culture and other humans,
without thinking that there is a nonphysical soul.
DR. CARSON: But basically it sounds like what
you're saying is there really would be no criteria from which
— that could be acceptable in the scientific realm that there
was such a thing.
DR. CHURCHLAND: Oh, not at all. I would be happy
to see evidence, of course.
DR. CARSON: But what I'm asking is what evidence
would be convincing? It's sort of like the question you ask
a child when they don't want to bed and you say well, what would
be a good reason for you to go to bed?
DR. CHURCHLAND: Let me put the question this
way. I'm going to answer your question with a question. Suppose
I thought that as many people did until about 1950 that life involved
élan vital, a spiritual force, that livingness itself was an immaterial
Now suppose I ask you, you know, you don't think that that's
the case, so what would count for you as evidence that that was
the case? And you'd be hard put to it to answer because you'd
say well, look, we know now about life because we know about ATP
and mitochondria and RNA and DNA and cell membranes and trans-membrane
proteins and how cells make a group. And if I had to give you what
would be evidence for vital force? Well, I don't know.
I think we're at a point in science where we say much the
same thing about a soul which is that we're not closed-minded
about it. If there were a research program whose conclusion was
that, I'd look at it very closely. So it isn't a closed
issue, it's just that's where I see the probabilities lie.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Schaub.
DR. SCHAUB: I wanted to ask you a quick question
about one of the instances in your presentation and then if you're
willing to take questions on the article that was distributed, I'd
like to ask you a question about that as well.
DR. CHURCHLAND: Sure.
DR. SCHAUB: The instance I wanted to ask you
about is childbirth and pain and the use of anesthesia. Hasn't
there been a backlash against the use of anesthesia in childbirth
arising not from religious figures but from women themselves? So
it seems that many women desire to bring forth their children in
pain and that they believe there is a connection between this great
pain and the great joy of childbirth and as a result, there's
been a return to natural childbirth. So I wonder if you could comment
on that and maybe tie that to some kind of sense of the dignity
DR. CHURCHLAND: That's a great question.
DR. SCHAUB: Do you want me to ask the other
question now or do you want to respond to that?
DR. CHURCHLAND: Let me answer this one in case
I get muddled. Of course, it's a choice. And if someone prefers
not to avail themselves of it, then that's — that is,
indeed, their choice.
The problem was that in the 19th century people wanted it not
to be a choice. They wanted nobody. And this included people who
had to have Caesarian sections.
Now I know of nobody who argues that in the event of a Caesarian,
what you want to do is avoid anesthesia. But the other point I
think is that anesthesia in childbirth in say the 1960s and 1970s
was often misused. And it was often convenient for obstetricians
and I'm sure Dr. Pellegrino can correct me on this, but it was
often convenient for obstetricians to anesthetize the woman and
do it quickly. And so quite rightly some women felt that maybe
they'd rather do it the old fashioned way.
On the other hand, if the pain is going on for days and days and
days as it can, and it is excruciating, as it can be, then lots
of women do still wish to avail themselves of that possibility.
Now the third and final point is that anesthesia, especially using
spinal anesthesia, is such now that you can have pretty much the
joy, you can have the joy of the pushing and you can have the joy
of immediately feeding the infant and having it placed on your tummy.
You're not confused, you're not muddled, you're not
asleep. You can have all that joy, but you don't have to have
well, I've done it. It's actually pretty darn miserable.
And I was pretty darn happy actually to have a little sniff of the
old NO there, NO2. I didn't mind that at all. And I was pretty
into childbirth and the babies and I still am, but I did not mind
at all. And I did not feel that my pain helped anybody or that
you know, I was closer to nature, my God, as a result of feeling
all of that. So I'm sorry, I took too long.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: I have
in the following order: Gomez-Lobo, Hurlbut, Lawler and Kass, hopefully
as you appeared.
DR. GÓMEZ-LOBO: I have some
more general comments and perhaps a question dispersed here and
there. And the reason is I want to have a better sense of the direction
of your presentation. At times, it seemed to me that it was all
geared towards the question of embryonic stem cells, which is the
great debate today in the U.S. And that's fine.
But then what arises in my mind is the following question, well,
why invoke Aquinas in this context? I know that lots and lots of
people mention Aquinas here and the big problem with Aquinas, of
course, was that he thought that the rational soul had no organ
at all. It came totally from outside the biological process. In
fact, in the Quaestiones Disputatae de Anima, he says it explicitly,
that it comes through — it comes out of the door, etcetera.
And then my question is well, why should we even think along those
lines. But the feminine ovum was discovered by von Baer in 1827.
The 50-50 contribution of the gametes was known by the middle of
the 19th century. And so that is something, I think, we should
take very seriously. Incidentally, the fact that Aquinas thinks
that the rational soul comes in at 40 days does not mean it's
morally permissible to destroy an embryo before 40 days. He thinks
it's a grave sin. It's just not homicide. So in a way,
one can say he had the ethics right, but the embryology wrong or
something along those lines.
Now in the case of our modern understanding of embryonic development,
it is true that there are continuities, but there is this big break
between the gametes and the zygote. The genetic structure of the
zygote is dramatically different from that of the gamete. So there's
an interruption of continuity there.
Now the other thing that seems to be pretty clear is that there
is something we can vaguely call a genetic program in the zygote,
the heredity goes through that stage and that therefore in terms
of genotype at least, it's undeniable that we go back to the
zygote stage. And in that regard, I side with Ben on this one,
to say I'm a potential cadaver, but I'm not a cadaver.
I find that tremendously puzzling because the idea of potentiality
is the idea of an active power to become something. One can say
that the newborn child has the potential to see and start seeing
after perhaps a couple of days or a couple of weeks, but death and
becoming a cadaver is the loss of all potentiality. There's
a drastic dis-analogy there that should be taken into account.
Now finally, not to extend myself too long, the question of the
use of the term "person," I think to a great extent, the
debate in the U.S. today hinges on the fact that the term person
is used in two different ways. It is used by some people as a phased
sortal as they say in philosophy, as a term that tells us what sort
of thing something is during a phase of its existence. A little
bit like a teenager, a teenager is a phased sortal. A phased sortal
is a concept such that if one ceases to fall under it, one does
not cease to exist. But a proper sortal is different. A proper
sortal is such that if one ceases to fall under it, one ceases to
Now taking into account — if one takes that into account,
of course, people would think that a human being has dignity and
therefore is owed respect throughout her life, of course we'd
be using the term "person" as a proper sortal. In other
words, it would be tied to the notion of human biological individual.
And there, I think, the genetic evidence is rather clear. Particular
DNA starts at fertilization.
So I would draw a rather different conclusion and the —
but the final point that I want to make is this. Someone can say
yes, you think that, but let some time pass and we'll come around
and it's going to be like anesthesia. But I rather doubt it.
I think that here we're at a very crucial and deep point which
is you know, hardly, hardly such that we could abandon it rationally.
DR. CHURCHLAND: Thank you. Wonderful questions,
The point about Aquinas was really introduced to remind us that
there has not been a univocal position amongst people with religious
beliefs on this question.
And the point about the rational soul for Aquinas and it's
easy to find the textual data, is that he says the proper —
it does come from the outside, but the proper organs have to be
in place, otherwise, the rational soul can't have a home and
God wouldn't do that.
So really I wanted to make two points and one is then that even
amongst highly respected theologians, there are differences of opinion
and that arguably Aquinas' point does mesh with a current conception.
All right, let's put that aside.
Second point, there's a radical discontinuity between the
gamete and the conceptus. There's a radical discontinuity when
cell differentiation begins, as radical from my point of view.
Why not? There's a radical difference once neurons and neural
networks begin to develop.
It all depends in the way, in what you really mean by radical
discontinuity and whether you wish to press the idea of there being
a discontinuity such that you don't have a person and suddenly
you do in the proper sort of sense, or whether you want to see that
there are many, many changes here. And what I don't think you
want to do is to bring to the debate a prejudgment about which of
those discontinuities for say religious reasons we're going
to take as serious and which we aren't.
What I'm prepared to do is to say let's look at the empirical
data, let's assume that there are differences of opinion. Aquinas
and I have an opinion about the importance of the brain and the
fetus for the rational soul. Your opinion is different. I grant
you that. Let's come together on it.
I think that's the main point.
DR. GÓMEZ-LOBO: A brief rejoinder.
First of all, I feel very uneasy about characterizing the discussion
as a discussion of religious opinion. Aquinas borrowed all of this
from Aristotle. As far as I know he never did any empirical work
on embryology. It's not a matter of theology. It's not
a matter of belief. It's not a matter of religion or of biblical
background. So I'm totally with you.
Let's look at the empirical data, but there, I think that
it is perfectly possible to give an argument to the effect that
say the development of the neural system is certainly caused by
the genetic program in the individual, whereas in one gamete, of
course, there's nothing of that nature. The two events, the
two changes are radically different. Empirically, I don't see
how they can be put on a par.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Hurlbut.
DR. HURLBUT: I want to talk about the question
of potential and progress and I want to try to get back into the
heart of what I think you brought to us, specifically in the paper
which really does address some very fundamental questions about
the foundations of human dignity.
First, however, I'd like to make a point or ask a question,
it's sort of preliminary. It seems to me that there's a
sense in which the term "I'm a potential cadaver"
does not have the same meaning as, as Alfonso said, an organism
with a program to unfold in a certain way can become something.
And correct me if I'm wrong on this, but it seems to me, none
of us are potential cadavers. We have a capacity to die and then
cease to be. In that sense, we're never a cadaver. That would
like saying we are molecules. We have a capacity to die, but we
are never cadavers. Do you see my distinction there?
DR. CHURCHLAND: Up to a point. Look, much of
this depends on how you choose to use the word "potential."
And I don't think — like I think many concepts that are
useful in the workaday world, it doesn't have necessary and
sufficient conditions. And the point was made earlier that if something
has potentiality, it must be an active process; like who says?
I mean I think if you look in the dictionary, you're not going
to find that. That may be a particular conclusion that you wish
to have in the context of talking about the potentiality of the
conceptus, but it isn't a word that affects the notion, it isn't
a sense that determines our use of the word "potential"
People talk about so-and-so's potential for madness, or his
potential as an artist. We talk about the potential for energy
in a particular development. We talk about the potential for sea
rising, given global warming. We use that word in many, many ways
and it's not confined to the discussion of the development of
So the only point I wanted to make and it's essentially a
point that Mike makes much better in The Ethical Brain
and that is, even granting that there are continuities with some
differences such as the beginning of cell differentiation and so
forth, we don't want to say that the thing at this end is exactly
the same as the thing at this end or should be treated as such because
it has the potential to be such. I don't see the rationale
DR. HURLBUT: Okay, I will go on from there,
but I think you make an important point. There are different ways
to view potential, but that the reason the concept of potential
in the embryo is important is because it's used in a specific
limited sense and that is an active potency, an unfolding of being.
Just as we wouldn't say that a four-year-old girl was infertile.
We'd say her fertility is in her, but not yet expressed. We
would likewise say that reasonably that there is an active potency
toward a particular nature of being expressed that an embryo is
incipient, is an incipient form of an unfolding being.
DR. CHURCHLAND: Well, I hate to get sort of all
Aquinas on you here, but if we're going to go into philosophical
territory, I just might do that.
Look, Aquinas made several distinctions about the very notion
of potentiality. There was the first order of potentiality and
the second order of potentiality and we don't really want to
have to go into that here because I think that would bore everybody
to tears. But suffice it to say these are very, very different
kinds of notions and the first one he says is where the conceptus
has the potential to be a person. And the second one is where the
infant has the potential to be an adult and he views those in very,
very different ways. And it's essentially based on the biology,
albeit a fairly old and ancient biology. But there isn't a
sort of single right way to use the notion of potential.
DR. HURLBUT: Okay, what I really wanted to ask
you was this. In your paper, you speak of moral progress and you
also at the same time speak of our evolved moral capacities as basically
serving a utility function, of social cohesion and so forth. As
you obviously know, there's a huge debate about what the origins
of that concept are.
Why in this sense is it meaningful to speak of progress at all?
Is it because it increases general social utility, individual benefits?
Or is it because it ascends towards some larger reality?
What I'm getting at here is the question that in spite of
the fact that you repeatedly in your paper seemed to imply that
the brain is a causal machine, that there is some kind of a computational
power going on, you also make reference to the use of reason and
so forth and I think these are very crucial questions when it comes
to human dignity, because there's the question of human freedom,
human ability to transcend those things which seem to be on an evolved
basis. It's almost as though you're pulled, like most of
us are in this debate, between the sense that there's a cold
calculation of evolutionary benefit and some transcendent goodness
that represents moral progress.
Do you see what I'm getting at? Is there something of a contradiction
DR. CHURCHLAND: I really do look at things biologically,
I have to confess. I thought very hard about that sort of question
because it's a very deep question and for anybody who does approach
ethics from a biological point of view, you have to think about
And my feeling is that we count things as moral progress to the
degree that they really enhance human flourishing and that by and
large the flourishing of the group entails the flourishing of individuals,
that when the group does well, it does well because individuals
And consequently, I think that, for example, having a judicial
system where you're tried by a jury of peers, is much more conducive
to — let's put it this way, less turmoil, less revolution
and so forth, than a system where people are — use trial by
And that many of these changes that we count as moral progress
are such because they reduce social turmoil. They make it possible
for people to achieve things. There's this great scene, the
best scene in Romeo and Juliet happens at the beginning.
What happens at the beginning is, of course, the idiot Montagues
and the idiot Capulets are having this tremendous row for no good
reason. It's just two warring factions, in-group/out-group.
And the prince comes in, settles it, sends them on their way.
And I think it's a great scene because I think in part what
Shakespeare is telling us is that you want to have a system of authority.
It doesn't really much matter necessarily how it comes into
being, but you must have a system of authority so that people don't
take the law into their own hands. And that's why a police
force is a good thing. And that's why legislation is a good
thing and so forth. We do not want the Hatfields and McCoys. It
causes tremendous problems.
If we don't have a judicial system, then when a child predator
does something really terrible to a child, I can bet you and I would
do it too, I'd go after that guy with my bare hands, if we didn't
have a judicial system in which I largely believed.
So I think it isn't a transcendent sense, but it's a sense
of progress that's very historical, but takes very seriously,
as Aristotle did, the idea of human flourishing and of institutions
and conditions that make it possible for humans to flourish.
I mean bear in mind, child labor was bitterly — the legislation
against it was bitterly opposed. If you go back and look at the
arguments against women's suffrage, all hell was going to break
loose if woman had the vote. Well, some people still think that.
But in any case, it counts, I think, as moral progress when —
and it isn't always moral progress. Sometimes, we take a step
we think is progress and we realize maybe that wasn't such a
good idea and we have to revise it and change it. Not all movement
is movement forward.
And sometimes you can't tell until, as Dewey, a great American
philosopher, said, you view it as a social experiment and hence
you be as cautious as possible, but you view it as an experiment
to see whether social flourishing will be enhanced, whether the
possibility for individuals will be enhanced. And guess what?
Public education introduced in the 19th century did despite great
misgivings, enhance human flourishing.
So that's kind of — that's a long answer and yet
it's also a short answer, so I'm sorry. That's the
best I could in quick time.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Lawler?
DR. LAWLER: Thanks a lot for a great presentation.
And let me restore Professor Meilaender's question, sort of.
Your view of the world is altogether too happy.
DR. CHURCHLAND: Nobody has ever accused me of
DR. LAWLER: Right, right. It's probably
a continuum of happiness or something. But it seems to be something
like this. With appropriate qualifications which you just introduced,
the world is constituted by progress and technology. The more we
control, the more we understand. Superstition recedes and our natural
capacity for respect, dignity and cooperation and all that comes
to the fore. And so the world is basically constituted by moral
progress. And I think there's some truth to this.
On the other hand, there's another way of thinking which is
something like this. Technology and biotechnology without appropriate
controls threaten our very humanity, our very dignity. And in our
world, where everything is constituted by choice, we have the world
of technology which is real and the world of preferences which is
the world that weighs nothing.
How can we control technology with mere preferences or mere weightless
choices? And this view is connected with say Nietzsche, Heidegger,
And these people at different levels for different reasons, not
all the same, these people worry that the unlimited progress of
technology, especially as it morphs into biotechnology, threatens
the very conditions under which human dignity is possible. I don't
completely agree with that view, but I don't completely disagree
with that view either. Isn't there something to it?
DR. CHURCHLAND: Of course, there is something
to it. And I don't entirely disagree. And that's why I
was careful to say at the end that we need to talk about regulations.
We need to talk about limitations. We need to talk about how to
do this in such a way that we don't have a biotechnology that
goes out of control.
But if I may get historical again and please indulge me for just
a moment, catastrophizing technology is a long and distinguished
tradition. And we know, for example, in our — in the very
recent past, that many stories about the potential catastrophe of
genetic engineering came to the fore.
Now these were not unreasonable worries. What we need to do in
the face of reasonable worries is to have regulations, negotiate
how best to do it and that's why at the end I wanted to draw
attention to how it's been done in the U.K., not that I think
that there's no room for improvement. Obviously, there is.
But I think that you can't — look, we all know you can't
just say stop technology. I mean it isn't possible. My father,
way out there on the farm said we will have no television in this
house. Well, we didn't, but you know what? All our neighbors
did and so far as I can tell, television was a big hit.
You can't just say there will be no more progress in this
area. So whether you're talking about the use of fire or gunpowder
or nuclear weapons or whatever, there's always a terrible danger
and I'm very mindful of that danger. And in the case of nuclear
weapons, I've been especially mindful because I've had the
great privilege to know Herb York who negotiated the Test-ban Treaty.
And so there are grave and terrible dangers. I would love to
put that genie of nuclear weapons back in the bottle, but believe
me, none of us can do it.
But I think we can, in the case of biotechnology, make good decisions.
That's not because I'm, you know, a Pollyanna. I think
we will also sometimes make bad decisions and have to take them
back. But as long as we're flexible so that we can cautiously
move forward, revise our decisions if they were unwise and try to
do it well, but you know, with the best will in the world, you are
not going to stop that stem cell research. It's going to happen.
It's happening in the U.K. It will happen elsewhere in Europe.
The benefits will be seen. So let's do it. Let's regulate
it. Let's be very careful about it. But I'm not that happy.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Kass.
DR. KASS: I also want to stay on the dignity
question. If you even offer a small hint that the embryo question
is on the table, lots of my colleagues will see to it that it gets
defended. It was no part of your paper that was submitted. If
it was, it was a tiny part and I was, myself, much more concerned
with the larger notion of human dignity as is implied by your attachment
to the neurosciences and your account of the human being as brain
with body and things of that sort.
Now I was hoping, given your paper, which wasn't really about
human dignity, that you would come and say look, human dignity is
a passé notion. We don't really need it and we can't defend
it, because it rests on an account of the human person that neuroscience
is now showing us is untenable.
If you looked at the OED, there are examples, but each of those
examples is pegged to a prior definition that's offered, all
of them sharing some sense of elevation, of worth, of excellence.
And the excellence of the human person, of human beings, I mean
there are excellences of other animals as well, but the excellence
of the human being has something to do with the performance of specific
human activities in a particularly fine or noble or high form.
Not all of them other-directed, by the way. Aristotle's Ethics
is not primarily about the virtues of usefulness to the community.
In fact, not once in the account of any of those virtues up to justice
does he talk about the utility of them. He talks about their being
for the sake of the beautiful or the noble and the whole context
of the Ethics is individual flourishing and happiness.
So I would have thought that you would have said, the soul being
an unnecessary notion and that all there are are brains, that it
would be very hard to see how this particular neurochemical, neuroelectro-chemical
functioning carried anything like dignity, or what would make something
dignified as opposed to undignified?
And I don't think that you can sustain a notion of human dignity
on a purely material account of the human being. That would be
point number one.
Point number two, I can't resist on the subject of the soul.
I found it somewhat odd that Aristotle — that Aquinas'
teaching of the soul was sort of imported here for its utility,
but against a background where one thought that the notion of the
soul was utterly passé. And it's true that none of us believe
in the vital élan, although I don't think the account
that we now have of the materials of life add up to an account of
what aliveness is, but that's another subject. But that's
partly because the problem as posed in the middle of the last century
was to see what would be left over after you conceded a full mechanistic
account of the body, and then these poor fools tried to invent some
kind of ghost in the machine that somehow explained the things that
mechanism couldn't explain.
But for real proper discussion of the soul, you need to ask what
in the world does it mean, what do you mean when you're talking
about it? And Aristotle's account of the soul is not an account
of some kind of — I've forgotten how you chose to embarrass
treatment of the soul. It's, in the first instance, the form
of the naturally organic body possessed by certain kinds of powers.
And it is not material. That is to say, and here I think there's
a demonstration, this is a philosophical point, not an empirical
The philosophical point is and I don't think it's been
refuted, the eye, the eye has extension. De Anima 2.12.
The eye has extension. You can hold it in your hand. It has length
and breadth. You can measure it. But sight, the power of seeing,
you cannot hold in your hand. Never mind the activity of seeing
which is not a thing.
You can't see without the material thing, but to see, the
act of seeing — the brain doesn't see. You see as a result
of the brain being in a certain way. And that means that there's
much more that has to be done here before we yield to the neuroscience's
wonderful mechanistic account of mechanism, the full account of
the human person, because if we cede to them, then I think you have
to say human dignity goes with it. I don't see any way of saying
— I don't see any way of justifying your very nice person
amorality about cooperation and being nice and so on.
I mean there is the ape and the tiger that Thomas Huxley in Evolution
and Ethics reminded us too that has been somehow part of our
history. I don't think you can develop a notion of what moral
progress really is as opposed to simply saying there's change,
and you've got an account of what human dignity is, and I don't
think you can sustain a notion of human dignity on the basis of
neuroscience and materialistic neuroscience alone.
That's a bit much —
DR. CHURCHLAND: Oh, I think I can handle it.
DR. KASS: Okay.
DR. CHURCHLAND: All right, there is a lot to
respond to. Look, I stand upbraided. I did not say very much about
dignity because I tried to approach it in a different direction.
I did that for several reasons. One, as I said, I thought Adam
Schulman's discussion was extremely useful and I thought that
it also showed that there were rather different conceptions, historically,
I also thought that Ruth Macklin had dealt with many of the issues
about whether dignity is really the critical element to be discussed.
So I didn't want to do that again, otherwise I'm sure I
would have been upbraided for repetition.
So as I said, I asked myself how can I be most useful? And I
think if I had just given the same talk on the nature of dignity
as viewed by Nietzsche or Aristotle and then Kant and so forth,
you would have been even more disappointed. So I decided to —
I should perhaps have not come. I should have said hey, I've
got nothing to say. But I was not about to squander an opportunity
to talk to this group —
— and also to meet some of you. So I asked — I mean
maybe this is just a pragmatist sort of question I shouldn't
have asked, but I said what could I do that might be useful? And
so I tried to do what I thought might be useful, knowing that I
couldn't expect agreement on everything, but hey, agreement
on everything is pretty boring. If you and I agreed on everything,
you'd probably wander off and talk to somebody else.
So I did my best. I stand scolded. Can we move on?
Now you wanted to say something?
DR. KASS: Forgive me if I was — if that
was received as a sort of aggression.
DR. CHURCHLAND: No, no, no. I just thought that
you were disappointed and I am very sorry to have disappointed you.
DR. KASS: No, I would like to ask this question.
Let me put it in the form of a question. You're steeped in
neuroscience and its implications for philosophy. And you've worked
in that area and are interested in neuroethics.
I wasn't expecting you to, say, repeat the history of philosophy
on the subject of human dignity. The question is what — on
the subject of human dignity, on whatever notion of human dignity,
do we have anything to learn from neuroscience if the brain is all
DR. CHURCHLAND: I know that's your question
and that's why I was about to move on. So you said, and this
really, really surprised me, I think, that you hoped that I would
say that if the mind is what the brain does, then there's no
such thing as dignity. And perhaps you hoped that because then
I'd be a really easy target, right? You could shoot that lady
But I wouldn't say that because here's how I think about
the brain. I think that it's an extraordinarily complex device,
which amongst other things guides movement and behavior, makes decisions,
remembers and remembers both in this declarative way that we know
and also in procedural ways and that when the brain is split, we
see disconnection phenomena that Mike has discussed and experimented
on so well. We know that in Alzheimer's it's not that there
is a nonphysical self that remains with all those memories and has
that reason and knows how to find the way home, we know that in
a seriously demented person those capacities are compromised and
they're compromised because the brain is compromised.
We know that when somebody feels pain we can ameliorate the pain
by changing various states of the brain. Now the problem —
and you know, no one knew this better than Descartes — the
problem with the idea that there is a nonphysical soul that somehow
does the feeling and the thinking and the remembering and it's
all intact, the problem has always been, as Father Malebranche said,
and I'm sure you must know this: So how does this nonphysical
thing connect to the brain? Where is the interaction?
And nobody has ever been able satisfactorily to give an account
of that. And not only not give an account of it, nobody —
and here's the interesting sort of real response to your question,
nobody even has a research program to show how that might be done. There
isn't even the merest beginning of a research program to show
how the nonphysical soul could interact with the brain. The only
neuroscientist or the only scientist that I know of that ever did
really was John Eccles and to his great credit he gave it a real
go. And he had the idea that the soul interacts with the brain
at the synapse, but neuroscientists find that deeply implausible
for all the physiological reasons that we know about.
So doesn't dignity vanish? No. Perception doesn't vanish.
Pain doesn't vanish, if we are a material thing. Pain is as
real as it would be if we were a nonphysical soul. It's real.
Memory is real and it's sure real when they're losing it
and don't have it any more.
And reason is real. We don't know in terms of the nervous
system what it is for neurons to get together and reason. And respect
that we hold for one another is like love that we hold for one another.
It's real. It's what the neurons, under certain conditions,
So we can't, I think, at this stage of neuroscience, give
a detailed account of that, but we know that various hormones have
a big effect on that. We now know, for example, that if you put
a woman into a tent and let her sniff either estrogen or testosterone,
certain parts of her brain are more apt to testosterone and men
are the other way around, unless they're gay, in which case they're
more apt to — the part of the hypothalamus is more apt to
So we're beginning to sort this all out, but it doesn't
mean that you know, we're just like a lawn mower. We are an
extraordinary device, all nervous systems are. I mean it's
like saying how can it be if temperature is really just motions
of molecules, how can it be that just motions of molecules can make
water boil? That makes no sense. There must be caloric fluid or
Sometimes science surprises us by telling us that our intuitions
about certain concepts need a bit of a change and I think perhaps
we're learning. I mean this is sort of the great revolution
in philosophy right now. We're learning what it means for us
to understand ourselves and we're not the only culture who does.
I mean primitive cultures have done this too, who have understood
ourselves primarily as material beings with these wonderfully complex
I'm sorry I took too long.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: We have
the following who would like to speak: Dresser, McHugh, Rowley,
George and Gazzaniga. The time is short. May I suggest the following?
I would like to give everybody I've listed a chance to ask your
question. Would you be willing to take a couple of questions together,
instead of taking them one by one?
DR. CHURCHLAND: And I will be very brief in my
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: If we
can do it that way, we might be able to get it all worked in. So
I'm going to ask Dr. Dresser to kick off and then Dr. McHugh.
PROF. DRESSER: All right, I'll try to be
really fast. I guess — I think you've had a difficult
job and part of the frustration you may be hearing is because we
are facing a frustrating task of what do we do with this dignity
And obviously, it's relevant to a lot of bioethics concepts,
beginning of life and we've put out three, four reports on some
issues surrounding that.
I wonder if you have any thoughts about topics such as use of
drugs and other medical interventions for "lifestyle purposes,"
things like selling organs; of course, death with dignity, and part
of the problem is people on different sides of arguments use the
As you say, Ruth Macklin has written about this, but I don't
think the debate or the analysis has been exhausted, so I wonder
if you have any thoughts about those theories?
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank
you very, very much. I think there may be some overlap and we'll
give the doctor a chance.
Dr. McHugh, you're next and then after that, Dr. Rowley.
DR. MCHUGH: Well, it was terrific, Pat, and
you're still your old sassy self.
Welcome and all. What I wanted to say to back up some of these
other issues, maybe we're talking about two domains of knowledge
and you are committing yourself to the domain of science or that
science philosophy. Yet, when you come to explain yourself, you
turn to the poets. You turn to Shakespeare to tell us the value
of the legal process, after all, but that's not new with Shakespeare.
The Oresteian tragedies lead up to exactly the same point. And
yet, in your discussions, you spend an awful lot of time walloping
the religious folks, except coming down for what you consider the
better cite, Catholic philosopher Aquinas, and not me.
I'm an Augustinian, but that's besides the point.
And you point out various things about what one Pope did and another
Pope did. After all, there was another Pope Clement who very much
spoke about autopsies, the important things, that he played a bit
role in the black death issues. The reason I feel about that is
that I was at the Brigham in 1956 when they were doing — I
was a young intern at the Brigham, when they were starting to do
the twin transplants and we heard this and then we went to look,
it was just as you said, he wasn't stopping that. He was worried
about the possibility of selling and buying things.
And by the way, Jack Kevorkian, one of the things Jack Kevorkian
spoke about is that we should chop away at the people we're
going to be executing because after all, we could use their organs
and then kill them. So he was prescient.
I wonder, in the process of talking about human dignity, two things.
Why you aren't talking about how the scientists get it wrong
so often. After all, from Semmelweis showing people they ought
to wash their hands and he couldn't persuade the doctors to
do it and was ostracized in Vienna for that, through eugenics and
frontal lobotomy and now we have this sex change operation, all
of which come from scientists. What is it about the scientists that
they don't speak the way the poets do in relationship to this?
So that's the first question. And maybe you should be talking
more about what the poets tell us because they provided domains
of knowledge that maybe biologists, you and me, can't get to
And the second little question is look, in the dignity question,
can you do as well as Jefferson did and bring us up to some sense
of where we are, created equal, endowed with certain inalienable
rights? After all, that was the position that permitted a tremendous
amount of progress to occur in our culture. And the Lincoln-Douglas
debates are all on that. I'm not telling you something you
So why don't you wallop the scientists for a bit to find out
in what way they get us into trouble and then talk about whether
some cultures are better than other cultures because of the poets
they listen to?
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank
DR. CHURCHLAND: Okay.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Dr. Rowley.
DR. ROWLEY: I appreciated your comments very
much and I want to ask you to follow on with the sense, as you have
described human dignity or in a sense where man flourishes best,
what kind of implications that has for our society and for the kinds
of concerns that society should have? And I'm thinking particularly
in terms of children and the poor in both health care, education
and things of that sort.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank
you very much. Dr. Gazzaniga?
DR. GAZZANIGA: Well, Pat, thank you again for
a wonderful talk. It certainly has provoked great interest.
I would like to offer a way of thinking about human dignity that
is similar to the difficulties of thinking about a concept such
as, say, personal responsibility and what I heard you saying today
can be illustrated in the following way to get us to think about
this. Let's imagine that everybody in the room here is the
only person on earth. You are the only person on earth. Then there's
no concept of personal responsibility. There's no concept of
human dignity. You're not going to strut over to a tree and
say hey, show me some dignity.
All of these things are obviously social constructs that come
from a group interacting and the rules that we set down and confer
on these concepts are as a result of hypotheses and attitudes that
we engender towards each other because we live in a group. So in
my analysis, the neuroscience really does not speak so much to concepts
of human dignity and of personal responsibility as does the hypothesis
that we generate as a result of living together in a social group.
And so we're looking, we're chasing the wrong dog here.
What we should be trying to understand is the social ideas that
come out of groups living together and that's where these concepts
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: And now
Dr. George and that will be the end of the questions and then the
terrible task I've imposed on our speaker to respond to all
of you in a very brief time.
PROF. GEORGE: Thank you. Dr. Churchland, I
do want to raise the issue of personal responsibility. I'd
like to know what the implications are for personal responsibility
of the rejection of the contracausal view of rational choice. I
thought that one way that we might be able to get at it is just
to ask you whether the following proposition is true or false or
meaningless. I just want to take a situation of moral monstrosity.
Hitler chose to do wrong in killing, murdering millions of Jews
and others. He didn't have to do it, but he did it. And because
he did it, he deserved to be punished.
So can I accept the Humean view that you accept and still say
that that proposition is true or is it false or is it meaningless?
DR. CHURCHLAND: Sure, it is true. But I'll
come back, see if I can do this quickly.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank
DR. CHURCHLAND: Now the first question, drugs
and lifestyle and selling organs and so forth, I think these are
things that we, of course, need to regulate. But these are really,
really complex questions, but the selling of organs, of course,
is very tightly regulated and certainly in our country, but so far
as I know, pretty generally. And you really don't want to have
to do that.
Death with dignity, yeah, I think we probably all have different
views on that. But I guess it's a really big question and I
know that many of you have struggled with that. So I guess I won't
say too much about that. But maybe you and I can chat a little
Okay, so the Augustine scholar, science gets it wrong. Absolutely,
science does get it wrong. And there are lots of instances of that.
So that was why I kind of wanted to say it isn't always progress
and sometimes what looks like progress turns out not to be such
a good idea and you realize the need for regulation.
So you do want to have regulations. I mean I'm really one
of those people who doesn't think that everyone should just
have a free hand, that we should down-regulate everything and let
folks go. I think we do need to negotiate together.
We need to compromise and come to reasonable conclusions about
what can and can't be done. And I think we've done that
on organ transplants, for example. I think that's actually worked
extremely well. I mean one of the things you require there is that
the doctor doing a transplant has nothing to do with the patient
who is giving it up.
Okay, so dignity and flourishing, of course, does involve, as
you're quite right, it does involve many, many aspects of life
and I kind of picked up from your question and I might be wrong
about this, that you made me think that there are other sort of
deeper and more pervasive problems than the problem of deciding
whether the conceptus has the rights and privileges of a person,
that maybe we can come to agreement on that, move forward and then
maybe address some of the deeper problems of poverty and unwanted
children and so forth.
Okay, and then there was Mike Gazzaniga's question and I think
he just puts it a lot better than I do, but I think I basically
agree in the sense that the disposition for cooperation and respect,
that's part of what we have and we're selected for as social
animals. And then the particular configuration that we give to
that via our institutions of a variety of kinds depends on accidents
of history, on how people think about things, about what their empirical
hypotheses are and their general attitudes.
So that's why I think we can expect to see differences and
why we shouldn't think the differences between us on say the
dignity of the conceptus is telling us anything deep. It's
just that people disagree. And finally, can we hold people responsible
on the assumption that the brain is a causal machine?
What I wanted to argue for in the paper was absolutely that —
and let me just go back to evolutionary biology. I mean one of
the things we do know is that if you want social traits of cooperation,
sharing and so forth, compromise, to spread throughout a population,
you have to punish the miscreants, because if you don't, they'll
And so if there ever was a justification for punishment in terms
of social utility, that's it. And I don't foresee that
going away, at least not in the immediate future, so I think that
is the justification for punishment.
Now the particular forms that punishment takes is going to vary.
I mean some people swat their children, some frown, some pinch them
and so forth. And with regard to capital offenses, some people
still like public executions. Others don't want executions
at all and then there's everything in between. So the particular
form that punishment takes is going to be negotiated and reasoned
about and empirical information about say the nature of madness
and the nature of genes like MAO-A mutants will come and will be
relevant and then we'll just have to do the best we can.
PROF. GEORGE: I am sorry, Dr. Churchland, I
think I made myself misunderstood then. I wasn't asking whether
you believed in whether there was a justification for punishment.
I was asking whether you believed that there could be personal responsibility
if you accept the Humean view, so my exact question was, is the
following true or false or meaningless: Hitler chose to kill millions
of Jews and others. He didn't have to do it. Because he did
it, because he did it, not for some future utility, but because
he did it, it's a retributive question, a question about retributive
justice, he deserved to be punished.
DR. CHURCHLAND: Well, my view on retribution
is very different from Richard Dawkins's. I think it serves a very
important social function. I think people need not only to have
a system of justice, but they need to see someone who did something
truly terrible, they need to see them punished. And if they don't
see that, then they take justice into their own hands.
So I think there's a powerful need for retribution. You see
it in baboons, chimpanzees, dolphins, wolves, and you see it in
us. And I think if you set up a system of criminal justice where
you just send the really terrible ones off to a nice farm, all hell
would break loose.
PROF. GEORGE: But would there be a reason to
punish Hitler if there would be no social utility in doing so?
I'm trying to get —
DR. CHURCHLAND: I think it's within the broader
utility, of course, it has to be.
PROF. GEORGE: So it's not because he did
it, because he's personally responsible and he deserves it.
DR. CHURCHLAND: Our understanding of "personally
responsible" is embedded within this broader context. That's
my take on it. And I mean look, there isn't a Platonic heaven
wherein the notion of pure justice, in and of itself, resides.
It just ain't so.
PROF. GEORGE: Well, I didn't
know that I was implying that it is, but I did want to know whether
Hitler chose to do it or didn't choose to do it and whether
he is responsible because he chose to do it and whether he should
be punished because he's responsible.
DR. CHURCHLAND: What do you think?
PROF. GEORGE: I think the answer is yes, that
he did it. Didn't have to do it. Because he did it, he's
responsible and he should be punished, irrespective of any social
utility in punishing him.
DR. CHURCHLAND: It's not the social utility
of his particular punishment I'm talking about. I'm talking
about the institution of punishment itself. And for the institution
of punishment to work, individuals have to be punished, ergo, I
would punish him and for the reasons you say.
CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Thank
you, very, very much for a valiant effort. I'm going to take
the Chairman's prerogative of saying we have a little extension
of time, let's come back at the hour, 11 o'clock, and we
have a little flexibility toward the end and thank you all for your
comments and I'm sorry, I couldn't get any of mine in.
(Laughter and applause.)
(Off the record.)