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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Advances in Experimental Moral Psychology

Hagop Sarkissian and Jennifer Cole Wright (eds.), Advances in Experimental Moral Psychology, Bloomsbury, 2014, 256pp., $112.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781472509383.

Reviewed by Jesse S. Summers, Duke University
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

The distinction between moral psychology and moral philosophy has never been a clear one. Observations about what humans are like plays an indispensable role in understanding our moral obligations and virtues, and great swaths of moral philosophy until the 19th century are psychology avant la lettre, empirical speculations about how we form moral judgments, about mental faculties and rationality, pleasure, pain, and character. This relationship between philosophy and psychology becomes both opaque and strained once experimental psychology develops its own academic discipline. Nevertheless, many contemporary moral debates -- like those surrounding moral character and moral motivation -- are clearly aware of and are sometimes in response to findings of empirical psychology. Experimental psychology is again leaching into the philosophical water.

It is a credit to Hagop Sarkissian and Jennifer Cole Wright that the research they assembled adds further nutrients to the soil. This collection is not a survey of empirical moral psychology. It instead pushes into debates whose philosophical implications have yet to be widely considered. As a result, the collection's primary audience is anyone already interested in moral psychology understood broadly, and it will need no further recommendation to those with empirical interests in the topic.

The entire book review is here.