THE NON-COGNITIVE FACTORS OF
MORAL LITERACY
CONTRIBUTIONS FROM NEUROSCIENCE
THE ROLE OF REASON, EMOTION &
IMPULSE IN MORALITY
“A moral being must be able to
keep his natural impulses in
check, to do what is required by
the weightiest of moral reasons.”
Kurt Baier
“Rationality is not a force to
evoke against habit and impulse,
it is the attainment of a working
harmony among diverse desires.”
John Dewey
JOHN DEWEY & F. M. ALEXANDER
My theories of mindbody....required contact
with the work of F.M.
Alexander and in later
years his brother A.R., to
transform them into
realities.
1859-1952
F. MATTHIAS ALEXANDER
• Man's Supreme Inheritance, Methuen (London,
1910), revised and enlarged (New York, 1918), later
editions 1941, 1946, 1957, 1996, reprinted 2002.
• Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual,
Centerline Press (US,1923), revised 1946, 2004
• The Use of the Self, E. P. Dutton (New York, 1932),
republished by Orion Publishing, 2001
• The Universal Constant in Living, Dutton (New York,
1941), Chaterson (London, 1942), later editions 1943,
1946, Centerline Press (US, 1941, 1986), 2000.
F. MATTHIAS ALEXANDER:
BASIC PREMISE
• Our“out-of-date”alarms:
• The human condition is aggravated by the transition in
human evolution from animal savagery to present
civilization.
• The incessant changes of“modern”society and the
inappropriate internal responses they prompt lead to
widespread “psycho-physical disequilibrium.”
• Our untimely emotional responses—fear and anger—
are responsible for our state of moral as well as
physical deterioration.
• Re-educating the nervous system—the internal, visceral
domain—is necessary to modify our impulses.
ALEXANDER: TRAINING AWARENESS
THROUGH POSTURE AND
BODY MOVEMENT
• It is one thing to teach
the need to a return to
the individual man as the
ultimate agency in
whatever mankind and
society collectively can
accomplish....It is another
thing to discover the
concrete procedure by
which this greatest of all
tasks can be executed.
And this indispensible
thing is exactly what Mr.
Alexander has
accomplished. John
Dewey
JOHN DEWEY’S
PREFACE TO F. MATTHIAS ALEXANDER
“The technique of
Mr. Alexander gives to
the educator a
standard of psychophysical health—in
which what we call
morality is included.”
UNDERSTANDING OUR INTERNAL DISHARMONY:
PSYCHOPHYSICAL DISEQUILIBRIUM,
EMOTIONAL DISLOCATION, FIGHT OR FLIGHT & STRESS
Walter B. Canon
The Wisdom of The Body
(1932)
Hans Selye
The Stress of Life (1956)
THE MORALITY & PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGY
OF ANGER (1947-1970’S)
Researcher/Theorists
Leonard Berkowitz
K.E. Moyer
Erich Fromm
“Character-conditioned hate”
The principal problem of ethics.
Anger is an internal
condition with
physiological and
biochemical correlates
that makes reckless,
aggressive responses
likely to occur.
Hans Selye: untimely, undue release of stress hormones can create
a self-induced intoxication, more harmful than alcoholic intoxication.
Aldous Huxley: “Adrenaline addicts.”
UPDATE 1995: DANIEL GOLEMAN
EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
• Goleman writes of the“emotional
explosions”and“neural hijackings”which
are not only prompted by the amygdala, but
are prompted before the neocortex can
respond—thereby explaining the“power of
emotion to overwhelm rationality” (Goleman,
1995, p. 17).
• Goleman refer to these as“emotional
habits.”
• Dewey did as well.
REDISCOVERING DEWEY’S
HUMAN NATURE AND CONDUCT (1922!)
• “A man with a habit
of giving way to
anger may show his
habit by a murderous
attack..”
• Even if occurs only
once in his life.
• Habits are not merely
external acts.
• Internal & External
education
ENTER CONTEMPORARY NEUROSCIENCE:
DAMASIO, NEWBERG, ET AL
• Our internal,
physiological
responses do not
simply disrupt
morality and moral
thinking.
• These responses
make a critical
contribution.
• Harmony!
SOME HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE:
THE CASE OF PHINEAS GAGE
After an accident
involving a tamping rod,
Gage emerged with a
changed personality.
He survived, but
apparently, the
ventromedial prefrontal
cortex had been
damaged.
ANTONIO DAMASIO’S DESCARTES’ ERROR (1995)
VENTROMEDIAL PREFRONTAL CORTEX
• Damage to the
ventromedial
prefrontal cortex
(VMF) compromises
reasoning/decision
making as well as
emotion/feeling.
• The VMF appears to
play a critical role in
social/moral
judgment and
behavior.
DESCARTES’ ERROR (1995)
BY ANTONIO DAMASIO
• Brain research indicates
emotion—”somatic
markers”—are a critical
feature in decision making
and conduct: requiring
neither too much or too
little.
• Damage to this area can
leave most cognitive
functioning, reasoning in
tact (IQ) but with a
deficiency in social action.
ENTER:
THE ANTERIOR CINGULATE CORTEX (ACC)
WHAT WE ARE DISCOVERING ABOUT
THE ANTERIOR CINGULATE CORTEX:
• The ACC lies in a unique position in the
brain, with connections to both the
amygdala, the “emotional” limbic system
and the “cognitive” prefrontal cortex.
• The ACC plays a significant role in
mediating cognitive influences on
emotion—both over and under regulation of
emotion can cause problems (too much or
too little). We need a “working harmony” as
JD observed.
ACC:
THE ANTERIOR CINGULATE CORTEX:
• The ACC appears involved in the detection of
undesirable emotions and is thus critical to
social awareness and compassion.
• Strokes, lesions, or too much fear and anger
(fight of flight) can damage the ACC—this can
cause individuals to loose a capacity for
empathy and instigate aggressive acts.
• Part of PTSD.
• JD on FMA: “a standard of psycho-physical
health in which what we call morality is
included.”
AWARENESS TRAINING AND THE ACC
• The shifting focus of our conscious attention
will channel the flow of electrical activity
through various circuits of the brain; some
even stimulating activity in the ACC.
• Meditation not only reduces stress, but also
stimulates neural activity in the ACC
supporting the premise that such practices
enhance social awareness & compassion
(fostering a “working harmony amongst
diverse desires”).
AWARENESS TRAINING
AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
• Because of the brain’s neuroplasticity, new
patterns of repeated neural circuit activation
strengthens synaptic connections associated
with these practices.
• F.M. Alexander believed children possess a
“plastic intelligence” that must be nurtured
properly to prevent mind-body habits that disrupt
our “psycho-physical organism.”
• We use the mind to change the brain and thus
“take control of our own potentialities.”
(John Dewey on F.M. Alexander; our “Supreme
Inheritance”)
ANOTHER STUDENT OF ALEXANDER’S:
ALDOUS HUXLEY’S BRAIN METAPHOR
TRAINING AWARENESS
ALDOUS HUXLEY’S
“NON-VERBAL HUMANITIES”
Zen Archery
Meditation
Tai Chi
We do not educate a “mind” or a “body” but a “mind-body.”
Techniques for training awareness and increasing harmony.
CONCLUSION
• Portions of the brain that have been linked to
executive control, social judgment and emotional
processing are strengthened by techniques that
train our awareness, in particular, meditation and
other “Non-verbal humanities.”
• Hence the critical role of seemingly non-cognitive
factors in morality.
THE FOUR DOMAINS
OF MORAL EDUCATION
EXTERNAL
INTERNAL
DIRECT
DIRECT
EXTERNAL
DIRECT
INTERNAL
INDIRECT
INDIRECT
EXTERNAL
INDIRECT
INTERNAL
THE EXTERNAL DOMAIN
Direct
Didactic Instruction:
Conveying clear
behavioral objectives
for the moral-ethical
domain. Helping
students examine and
understand the moral
expectations for life in
the classroom, school
and society.
Indirect
Classroom and schoolwide activities/policies that
foster moral climates: with
specific regard to
opportunities for applying
moral principles to real
problems in the classroom
and school;
collateral learning.
THE INTERNAL DOMAIN
Direct
Indirect
• Self-regulation & the Non-verbal
• The examination of
Humanities: training
awareness; fostering harmony
between the mind and body—
reduce errant internal
responses and nurture a
capacity to find moral conduct
intrinsically rewarding
(endorphins).
• Dewey:“rationality is not a
force to invoke against habit
and impulse, it is the attainment
of a working harmony among
diverse desires.”
emotions: in oneself and
in others—with special
reference to their
influence on our
perceptions of others and
ourselves, and our
conduct with others. The
consideration of
strategies for controlling
impulse and regulating
mood: Golemans “Self
Science.”
ISLAND (1962)
HUXLEY’S PRAGMATIC DREAM
• Patriotism is not enough.
But neither is anything
else. Science is not
enough, religion is not
enough, art is not enough,
politics and economics are
not enough, nor is love, nor
is duty nor is action
however disinterested, nor,
however sublime, is
contemplation. Nothing
short of everything will
really do.
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