12/12/2014 08:13 am ET Updated Dec 12, 2014

The Neuroscience Of Altruism

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“We are good,” Donald Pfaff declares early on in The Altruistic Brain. By this he means that all humans are innately moral, not in a philosophical/religious sense, but as a matter of objective science. “[T]he human brain is wired for goodwill,” he argues, “which propels us toward empathic displays of altruism.” The human brain is altruistic, and altruism is good; therefore humans are good. It’s a neat syllogism—but, unfortunately, reducing moral questions to syllogisms doesn’t work as well as Pfaff wants it to.

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