Can Virtue Be Taught? Neuroscience and Ethical Formation

In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard asserts that our body is the primary resource for religious life, suggesting that God designed our brains to be spiritual. In other words, the way we are is precisely the way it is supposed to be. For the Christian who takes the Bible’s authority seriously, any moral formation theory must be consistent with Scripture. However, a persistent faith-reason divide makes many believers suspicious of possible scientific explanations for phenomena usually classified as spiritual. The purpose of this paper is to explore the nature of “the way it is supposed to be.” Recent discoveries in neuroscience give us insight into how God has created human brains to incorporate knowledge and undergo moral formation. The first half of this paper will describe some of the exciting developments in neuroscience that give insight into how our brains generate consciousness and cognitive behavior. The second half appropriates a form of virtue ethics, first to advance a model of how we come to know things, and then apply that model to a moral formation theory based on exemplarism. In the end, we will see that God created humans to perceive and comprehend the world in such a way as to generate a moral understanding of it and that he created our brains to carry out that process.

4 thoughts on “Can Virtue Be Taught? Neuroscience and Ethical Formation”

  1. Comment on “Can Virtue be Taught?…”
    Thematically, this is clearly a good fit for this year’s conference and for the bioethics section. Substantively, one question I would have would be to probe further the claim that “the way we are is the way it is supposed to be.” Specifically, how do we know that the way we are NOW is the way we were originally created/meant to be, and (b) why think that the way we are IS “the way it is supposed to be.” I’m not suggesting that there are no ways of answering these questions–just that these are obvious areas of pushback.

    Given its attention to the connection between issues of neuroscience and ethics, this proposal would pair well with “Neuroscience: Implications for the Existence and Care of Souls.”

  2. Virtue ethics and epistemology
    The paper wants to join virtue ethics to a theory of epistemology. That’s a fascinating idea, but I think other papers are more “on target” for this year’s theme.


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