In my mind, reductionism translates as “nothing buttery.” Belief in God, for example, is seen as “nothing but” the result of certain neuron firings in the brain. Altruism, formerly seen as spiritual or religious at root, becomes “nothing but” an expression of “the selfish gene.” Free will is reduced from spiritual and moral agency to neural determinism.
Now the reach of genetic research has reached to moral systems based on the way people who are “disgusted” and “dumbfounded” are wired. Nicholas Wade’s excellent piece on the subject is headlined: “Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written into Our Genes?” (New York Times, September 18). Featured scientist Jonathan Haidt of the University of Missouri cautiously responds, “In large part, ‘yes.’”