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Friday, November 8, 2013

Do Emotions Play a Constitutive Role in Moral Cognition?

By Bryce Huebner
Georgetown University
February 2013

Behavioral experiments have revealed that the presence of an emotion-eliciting stimulus can affect the severity of a person's moral judgments, while imaging experiments have revealed that moral judgments evoke increased activity in brain regions classically associated with emotion, and studies using patient populations have confirmed that damage to these areas has a significant impact on the ability to make moral judgments. To many, these data seem to suggest that emotions may play a robustly causal or perhaps even a constitutive role in moral cognition (Cushman, Young, & Greene 2010; Greene et al. 2001, 2004; Nichols 2002, 2004; Paxton & Greene 2010; Plakias 2013; Prinz 2007; Strohminger et al. 2011; Valdesolo & DeSteno 2006). But others have noted that the existing data are also consistent with the possibility that emotions operate outside of moral cognition, ‘gating’ off morally significant information, or ‘amplifying’ the output of distinctively moral computations (Decety & Cacioppo 2012; Huebner, Dwyer, & Huaser 2009; Mikhail 2011; Pizarro, Inbar, & Helion 2011). While it is commonly thought that this debate can be settled by collecting further data, I maintain that the theoretical foundations of moral psychology are themselves to blame for this intractable dispute, and my primary aim in this paper is to make a case for this claim.

The entire paper is here. 
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