Humanities Center Director: Thomas Wilson

Heidi Ravven

Professor of Religious Studies, Hamilton College

The Self Beyond Itself:   Rethinking How to Get Individuals to be Morally More Courageous and Societies More Humane

Thursday, October 24. 2013 • 4:10pm • Taylor Science Center 3024

This talk will present a range of neurobiological and other evidence that we must relinquish the notion of free will as the source of our moral capacity. It traces the notion to its theological roots and makes the case that we are still envisioning the human person in magical terms, albeit disguised and secularized ones. It then offers a naturalized way of thinking about moral agency and responsibility emergent from the new brain sciences and also inspired by Spinoza. The talk will summarize some of the research of Ravven’s recent book,The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of  Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will (The New Press, 2013).

Heidi M. Ravven is a neurophilosopher and specialist on the philosophy of the seventeenth century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza. She was the first to argue that Spinoza’s moral philosophy is a systems theory of ethics and to propose that Spinoza anticipated central discoveries in the neuroscience of the emotions. Ravven has published widely on Spinoza’s philosophic thought, the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides,  G.W.F. Hegel and feminism, and Jewish ethics and Jewish feminism. Heidi Ravven holds a Ph.D. from Brandeis University and  has taught Jewish Studies at Hamilton since 1983. She is a founding member of the Society for Empirical Ethics, an organization devoted to promoting dialogue about ethics among philosophers, neurobiologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and other social and natural scientists.  In 2004 Ravven received a grant from the Ford Foundation to write a book rethinking ethics. That book, The Self Beyond Itself  (2013), is an extended and multidisciplinary inquiry into moral agency: why we are moral, why and when we are not, and how to get people to be more moral. Ravven concludes with her own theory of moral agency inspired by the philosophy of Spinoza, which she updates to reflect contemporary understandings of how the brain/mind works in moral thinking and action.

Sponsored by the Dean of Faculty