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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Beyond Point-and-Shoot Morality: Why Cognitive (Neuro)Science Matters for Ethics*

By Joshua Greene
Forthcoming in Ethics


In this article I explain why cognitive science (including some neuroscience)
matters for normative ethics. First, I describe the dual-process theory of moral judgment
and briefly summarize the evidence supporting it. Next I describe related experimental
research examining influences on intuitive moral judgment. I then describe two ways in
which research along these lines can have implications for ethics. I argue that a deeper
understanding of moral psychology favors certain forms of consequentialism over other
classes of normative moral theory. I close with some brief remarks concerning the bright
future of ethics as an interdisciplinary enterprise.

Here is an excerpt:

Likewise, it would be a cognitive miracle if we had reliably good moral instincts about
unfamiliar* moral problems. This suggests the following more general principle:
The No Cognitive Miracles Principle: When we are dealing with unfamiliar*
moral problems, we ought to rely less on automatic settings (automatic
emotional responses) and more on manual mode (conscious, controlled
reasoning), lest we bank on cognitive miracles.
This principle is powerful because it, when combined with empirical knowledge of
moral psychology, offers moral guidance while presupposing nothing about what is
morally good or bad. A corollary of the NCMP is that we should expect certain
pathological individuals—VMPFC patients? Psychopaths? Alexithymics? —to make 32
better decisions than healthy people in some cases. (This is why such individuals are no
embarrassment to the view I will defend in the next section.)

The author's copy is here.