Patients with ventromedial frontal damage have moral beliefs

Philosophical Psychology 19 (5):617 – 627 (2006)
Michael Cholbi thinks that the claim that motive internalism (MI), the thesis that moral beliefs or judgments are intrinsically motivating, is the best explanation for why moral beliefs are usually accompanied by moral motivation. He contests arguments that patients with ventromedial (VM) frontal brain damage are counterexamples to MI by denying that they have moral beliefs. I argue that none of the arguments he offers to support this contention are viable. First, I argue that given Cholbi's own commitments, he cannot account for VM patients' behavior without attributing moral beliefs to them. Secondly, I show that his arguments that we should not believe their self-reports are unconvincing. In particular, his argument that they cannot self-attribute moral beliefs because they have a defective theory of mind is flawed, for it relies upon a misreading of both the empirical and theoretical literatures. The avenues remaining to Cholbi to support motive internalism are circular, for they rely upon an internalist premise. I provide an alternative picture consistent with neuroscientific and psychological data from both normals and those with VM damage, in which connections between moral belief and motivation are contingent. The best explanation for all the data is thus one in which MI is false.
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