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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

On the cognitive (neuro)science of moral cognition: utilitarianism, deontology and the ‘fragmentation of value’

Alejandro Rosas
Working Paper: May 2017


Scientific explanations of human higher capacities, traditionally denied to other animals, attract the attention of both philosophers and other workers in the humanities. They are often viewed with suspicion and skepticism. In this paper I critically examine the dual-process theory of moral judgment proposed by Greene and collaborators and the normative consequences drawn from that theory. I believe normative consequences are warranted, in principle, but I propose an alternative dual-process model of moral cognition that leads to a different normative consequence, which I dub ‘the fragmentation of value’. In the alternative model, the neat overlap between the deontological/utilitarian divide and the intuitive/reflective divide is abandoned. Instead, we have both utilitarian and deontological intuitions, equally fundamental and partially in tension. Cognitive control is sometimes engaged during a conflict between intuitions. When it is engaged, the result of control is not always utilitarian; sometimes it is deontological. I describe in some detail how this version is consistent with evidence reported by many studies, and what could be done to find more evidence to support it.

The working paper is here.