Published in The Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology, eds. Karen Jones, Mark Timmons, and Aaron Zimmerman (Routledge, 2018).
This chapter examines the relevance of the cognitive science of morality to moral epistemology, with special focus on the issue of the reliability of moral judgments. It argues that the kind of empirical evidence of most importance to moral epistemology is at the psychological rather than neural level. The main theories and debates that have dominated the cognitive science of morality are reviewed with an eye to their epistemic significance.
We routinely make moral judgments about the rightness of acts, the badness of outcomes, or people’s characters. When we form such judgments, our attention is usually fixed on the relevant situation, actual or hypothetical, not on our own minds. But our moral judgments are obviously the result of mental processes, and we often enough turn our attention to aspects of this process—to the role, for example, of our intuitions or emotions in shaping our moral views, or to the consistency of a judgment about a case with more general moral beliefs.
Philosophers have long reflected on the way our minds engage with moral questions—on the conceptual and epistemic links that hold between our moral intuitions, judgments, emotions, and motivations. This form of armchair moral psychology is still alive and well, but it’s increasingly hard to pursue it in complete isolation from the growing body of research in the cognitive science of morality (CSM). This research is not only uncovering the psychological structures that underlie moral judgment but, increasingly, also their neural underpinning—utilizing, in this connection, advances in functional neuroimaging, brain lesion studies, psychopharmacology, and even direct stimulation of the brain. Evidence from such research has been used not only to develop grand theories about moral psychology, but also to support ambitious normative arguments.