The  EVOLUTION  of  MORALITY IMAGE 18A-1   
Previous

INDEX

Next
Concept/Content neurological basis of moral behavior / Phineas gage skull
Information caption Evolutionary understanding is typically informed by analysis of structure and function. To further understand moral behavior, then, biologists consider the anatomy and physiology of the brain and nervous system (Pfaff 2007).
Perhaps the most fascinating case is a man who lost some his social and moral bearing due to an unusual brain injury: a railroad worker in the 19th century named Phineas Gage. Gage was using his tamping iron to compact an explosive charge when it detonated prematurely and sent the 1-inch-wide rod up under his cheek bone, through his brain, and out the top of his skull. Gage, remarkably, survived. But he had lost some of his brain, and with it, some of its function. Whereas before the accident Gage had been "quiet and respectful," afterwards he became "fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows." The attending physician profiled the dramatic change, noting that "the equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed" (Harlow 1868, pp. 339-340).
Inquiry caption If evolutionary understanding is informed by analysis of structure and function, we might expect to further understand moral behavior by considering the anatomy and physiology of the brain and nervous system (Pfaff 2007). Illustrated here is a fascinating case of an unusual brain injury to a railroad worker in the 19th century, Phineas Gage. Gage was using his tamping iron to compact an explosive charge when it detonated prematurely and sent the 1-inch-wide rod up under his cheek bone, through his brain, and out the top of his skull (as reconstructed at left). Gage, remarkably, survived (his partially healed skull, at right). But he had lost some of his brain, and with it, some of its function. Whereas before the accident Gage had been "quiet and respectful," afterwards he became "fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows." The attending physician profiled the dramatic change, noting that "the equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed" (Harlow 1868, pp. 339-340). What should we conclude about the relationship of brain structure and moral function based on this case?
Target Concept: Moral thinking and feeling have a neurological basis.
Source Ratiu and Talos (2004), e21, Figure 1
SIZE in pixels [file size] 650x534

© 2008 EVOLUTIONofMORALITY.net