Capital Consortium for Neuroscience: Ethical, Legal and Social Issues

Friday, March 26, 2010
12:00 – 1:00 PM

Hamlet and the Neuroethics of Vengeance, Revenge, and Redemption

Revenge is a common response to the experience of injury and of suffering. Revenge has four parts: 1) the event that inflicts injury along with its agent, 2) the motivation of vengeance that includes indignation and anger, 3) the act of revenge, imagined or completed, and 4) the experience of satisfaction at “being revenged”. Violent revenge happens in fantasy, rarely in reality. The play Hamlet (C. 1600), by William Shakespeare, is about vengeance and about the secondary theme of suicide. In this lecture, Prof. Moskovitz presents an evolutionary neurobiological theory of the origin and functions of these emotions and cognitions. He explores the combined natures of vengeance and suicide, along with the linked themes of jealousy and racist xenophobia that are dramatized in Shakespeare’s subsequent play, Othello (C. 1604). Prof. Moskovitz proposes that the sequence of mammalian nurturing (attachment, individuation and separation) evokes conflict, threats to the integrity of personhood, mistrust and anger. Predisposition to vengeance, suicide, jealousy and racism persist to threaten social stability. The tragedy of Hamlet is not that he doesn’t “get revenge”, but rather that he does not understand that the experience of redemption after violent revenge isn’t possible. In an increasingly interconnected world where cultures, belief systems and exploitative interests collide, it remains uncertain that conflict resolution, reconciliation and transcendence are possible without the motivation for revenge. Prof. Moskovitz addresses the neuroethical issues that are inherent to, and arise from, this theory.

Speaker Information

Dr. Peter Moskovitz (DC, USA)

Dr. Moskovitz is an orthopaedic surgeon and neurophilosopher who has cared for patients suffering the pain and distress of musculoskeletal diseases, injuries and deformities for 40 years. He is presently a Clinical Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Neurological Surgery at the George Washington University. He has taken an active role in healthcare policy and administration as an Associate Medical Director of the University’s Health Plan and as a member of numerous committees, councils and boards of the University Hospital and affiliated hospitals. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (RSDSA) and is Co-chairperson of its Scientific Advisory Committee. He is a past-president of the Washington Orthopaedic Society. Dr. Moskovitz received his undergraduate education at Haverford College and his medical degree from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. He completed his general surgery and orthopaedic surgery training at the George Washington University Medical Center and its allied hospitals. Between 1990 and 2000 Dr. Moskovitz was consulting spine surgeon for the George Washington University Spine Center, during which time he conducted research both George Washington University and at Emory University. His research has appeared in The Physiologist, the American Journal of Children’s Diseases, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Spine and The Journal of Spinal Disorders. He co-authored Living with RSDS, a book for people with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), also known as RSDS, as well as for their friends and families. Dr. Moskovitz is currently the CRPS Section editor of Practical Pain Management (PPM) and his articles and commentaries have appeared in PPM, as well as in The Pain Practitioner.



For additional information, tentative schedule, media access, or to register, please contact Guillermo Palchik at