Alvernia Professor Links Moral Thought to Physical Wellbeing

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In his latest book, Dr. Bongrae Seok (Alvernia University) delves into how basic moral abilities are built into our physical bodies.

Dr. Bongrae Seok, Alvernia University.

In his latest book, Dr. Bongrae Seok (Alvernia University) delves into how basic moral abilities are built into our physical bodies.

Most things have boundaries, but true intellectual effort can transcend time, from ancient to contemporary, and space, from East to West.

Dr. Bongrae Seok, associate professor of philosophy at Alvernia University has penned “Embodied Moral Psychology and Confucian Philosophy,” combining ancient Chinese philosophy and contemporary cognitive neuroscience to deliver the message that basic moral abilities are built into physical bodies.

Many children have trouble sleeping because of visions of four-eyed monsters hiding in the closet. But when philosophy professor Bongrae Seok, Ph.D., was young, he lay awake wondering why penguins didn’t fall off the south side of the round earth. He learned about gravity, and immediately became hooked on asking questions and seeking answers. Eventually, this is what brought him to the study of philosophy. “By forcing us to ask questions and fight the status quo, it helps us become better and better human beings every day,” he explains.

Seok’s latest philosophical question gets at the heart of moral consciousness, or what makes “good people.” And his latest book, “Embodied Moral Psychology and Confucian Philosophy,” combines ancient Chinese philosophy and contemporary cognitive neuroscience to deliver the message that basic moral abilities are built into people’s physical bodies.

Most humans learn at a young age that they have the power to choose between right and wrong. We make moral decisions after thinking about them carefully, and weighing pros and cons in our minds. But according to the theory Seok proposes in his new book, there may be another critical factor at play in moral decision-making — how we feel physically.

“We, of course, need careful analysis and deliberation for complicated moral issues. But for our everyday dealings with other people, we are very much moral animals as we are social animals, and our bodies tell that to us,” Seok says.

“Brain scans show that the areas of the brain active in a person’s pain experience are generally the same as the areas of the brain active when we watch other people suffer. That is, we mirror other people’s pain,” he explains. This “mirroring” shows that empathy is felt in bodily senses, and naturally helps people to feel motivated to help one another — creating the foundation of basic moral motivation, and Seok’s theory for embodied moral psychology. “So in the end, empathy, physical sensations in the body and moral motivation to help others are combined,” says Seok.

Seok’s book is a result of his interdisciplinary research on the nature of the moral mind. “Most things have boundaries, but true intellectual effort can transcend time, from ancient to contemporary, and space, from East to West,” he says.

ALVERNIA is a thriving university that empowers students through real-world learning to discover their passion for life, while providing the education to turn what they love into lifetimes of career success and personal fulfillment, helping them make the world a better place.

Situated on a scenic 121-acre suburban campus in historic Berks County, Pa., the university of more than 3,000 students is conveniently located near Philadelphia (60 miles) and within an easy drive of New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. With a College of Arts and Sciences and College of Professional Studies, Alvernia today offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and minors and a range of graduate programs at the master’s and doctoral levels through its School of Graduate and Adult Education. Satellite sites are located in Philadelphia and Schuylkill County. As one of only 22 Franciscan institutions in the country, Alvernia’s focus on caring for each other, the environment and the community are joined with a challenging educational experience to provide an unparalleled environment to grow, develop and mature as a person and professional.

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Carey Manzolillo
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