What is distinctive about a bringing a learning perspective to moral psychology? Part of the answer lies in the remarkable transformations that have taken place in learning theory over the past two decades, which have revealed how powerful experience-based learning can be in the acquisition of abstract causal and evaluative representations, including generative models capable of attuning perception, cognition, affect, and action to the physical and social environment. When conjoined with developments in neuroscience, these advances in learning theory permit a rethinking of fundamental questions about the acquisition of moral understanding and its role in the guidance of behavior. For example, recent research indicates that spatial learning and navigation involve the formation of non-perspectival as well as ego-centric models of the physical environment, and that spatial representations are combined with learned information about risk and reward to guide choice and potentiate further learning. Research on infants provides evidence that they form non-perspectival expected-value representations of agents and actions as well, which help them to navigate the human environment. Such representations can be formed by highly-general mental processes such as causal and empathic simulation, and thus afford a foundation for spontaneous moral learning and action that requires no innate moral faculty and can exhibit substantial autonomy with respect to community norms. If moral learning is indeed integral with the acquisition and updating of casual and evaluative models, this affords a new way of understanding well-known but seemingly puzzling patterns in intuitive moral judgment—including the notorious “trolley problems.”
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