Breaking Good: Moral Agency, Neuroethics, and the Spontaneity of Compassion

In Jake H. Davis (ed.), A Mirror is for Reflection: Understanding Buddhist Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 109-128 (2017)
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Abstract
This paper addresses two specific and related questions the Buddhist neuroethics program raises for our traditional understanding of Buddhist ethics: Does affective neuroscience supply enough evidence that contempla- tive practices such as compassion meditation can enhance normal cognitive functioning? Can such an account advance the philosophical debate concerning freedom and determinism in a profitable direction? In response to the first question, I argue that dispositions such as empathy and altruism can in effect be understood in terms of the mechanisms that regulate affective cognition. In response to the second question, I claim that moral agency is a type of achievement that comes with learning the norms of ethical con- duct, which are not tractable by specifically neurobiological mechanisms and processes (though, once learned, such norms would have their neural cor- relates when enacted)
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