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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Moral Tribes by Joshua Greene – review

By Salley Vickers
The Observer
Originally published January 11, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

What Greene and his team have added to this unnerving moral conundrum is the systematic use of multiple brain images that demonstrate that when people contemplate sacrificing the fat man there is increased activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with emotion, whereas consideration of operating the switch promotes increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with reasoning. People with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, who lack normal emotions, were five times more likely to approve of pushing the fat man off the bridge.

Greene began his career as a philosopher so is well placed to consider the question of ethics from a theoretical as well as an empirical perspective. There have been a number of books recently that consider the biological roots of moral sense (Paul Bloom's Just Babies is the most recent example). But while Greene's research suggests, in accordance with Bloom, that the rudiments of morality are indeed innate, it also demonstrates, through such experiments as the trolley problem, that our moral responses rest on a wobbly intuitive base – a gut feeling that may not produce the best general outcome.

The entire article is here.

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