The Normative Insignificance of Neuroscience

Philosophy and Public Affairs 37 (4):293-329 (2009)
Abstract
It has been claimed that the recent wave of neuroscientific research into the physiological underpinnings of our moral intuitions has normative implications. In particular, it has been claimed that this research discredits our deontological intuitions about cases, without discrediting our consequentialist intuitions about cases. In this paper I demur. I argue that such attempts to extract normative conclusions from neuroscientific research face a fundamental dilemma: either they focus on the emotional or evolved nature of the psychological processes underlying deontological intuitions, in which case the arguments rely on a blatantly fallacious inference, or they appeal to the (alleged) moral irrelevance of the factors to which deontological intuitions respond, in which case the neuroscientific results end up playing no role in the overall argument.
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