Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 521-543

First online:

Voles, vasopressin, and infidelity: a molecular basis for monogamy, a platform for ethics, and more?

  • Daniel J. McKaughanAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Boston College Email author 

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Voles are attracting attention because genetic variation at a single locus appears to have a profound impact on a complex social behavior, namely monogamy. After briefly reviewing the state of the most relevant scientific literature, I examine the way that this research gets taken up by the popular media, by scientists, and by the notable philosopher of neuroscience Patricia Churchland and interpreted as having deeply revisionary implications for how we ordinarily understand ourselves as persons. We have all these big questions we would like to resolve about free will, consciousness, our understanding of persons, and the nature of morality and there is a tendency to ask more of neuroscience than it can yet answer. I do not deny that advances in neuroscience may eventually bear on important philosophical issues. However, it is not at all clear that this research has many of the sweeping implications being claimed for it and, in communicating science responsibly to the public, there is reason to be cautious about suggesting that it does.


Churchland Patricia Smith Free will Neuroethics Oxytocin Vasopressin Voles Science and culture