I argue that the recent debate about the role disgust deserves in ethical thought has been impoverished by an inadequate understanding of the emotion itself. After considering Kass and Nussbaum’s respective positions in that debate, and the implausible views of the nature of disgust on which their arguments rest, I describe my own view, which makes sense of the wealth of recent, often puzzling, empirical work done on the emotion. This view sees disgust as being primarily responsible for protecting against (...) toxins and infectious diseases, but as also having been recruited to play auxiliary roles in the cognition of social norms and group boundaries. I argue that this view provides new and more plausible foundations for skepticism about the idea that disgust deserves some kind of special epistemic credit or moral authority, that the emotion is a trustworthy guide to justifiable moral judgments, or that there is any deep wisdom in repugnance. (shrink)
A core question of contemporary social morality concerns how we ought to handle racial categorization. By this we mean, for instance, classifying or thinking of a person as Black, Korean, Latino, White, etc.2 While it is widely agreed that racial categorization played a crucial role in past racial oppression, there remains disagreement among philosophers and social theorists about the ideal role for racial categorization in future endeavors. At one extreme of this disagreement are short-term eliminativists who want to do away (...) with racial categorization relatively quickly (e.g. Appiah 1995, D’Souza 1996, Muir 1993, Wasserstrom 2001 /1980, Webster 1992, Zack 1993, 2002), typically because they view it as mistaken and oppressive. At the far opposite end of the spectrum, long-term conservationists hold that racial identities and communities are beneficial, and that racial categorization – suitably reformed – is essential to fostering them (e.g. Outlaw.. (shrink)
States that are about things are intentional, that is, they have content. The precise nature of intentional states is a matter of dispute.What makes some states, but not others, intentional? Of those states that are intentional, what makes them about what they are about as opposed to something else, i.e. what gives them their specific content?
A venerable tradition in philosophy sees significance in the fact that, from a subjective viewpoint, some rules seem to impress themselves upon us with a distinctive kind of authority or normative force: one feels their pull and is drawn to act in accordance with such rules unconditionally, and violations strike one as egregious. Though the first person experience of it can be mystifying, I believe this phenomenology is just one aspect of the operation of a psychological system crucial to morality. (...) Building on previous work, I’ll call this property of certain rules independent normativity. After describing that property, I situate it with respect to earlier work done on the so-called moral/conventional distinction, and suggest new questions it raises about morality and emotion. Sripada and Stich (2006) posit a model of the cognitive architecture underlying an important element of human rule cognition.1 Following them, I’ll call this the norm system, and the rules cognized by it social norms. One feature of this system is that it imputes those rules it processes with independent normativity. Understood this way, those rules that enjoy independent normativity do so not in virtue of any particular content, but because the mental representations that express them occupy a certain functional role in human minds (that I’ll call SN-functional role). (shrink)
Racism is a problem with many facets, and a strategy of divide and conquer is useful in making the problem more tractable. One facet, which is also a core question of contemporary social morality, concerns how we ought to handle racial categorization, by which we mean, for instance, thinking of a person as black, Korean, Latino, white, etc. While it is widely agreed that racial categorization played a crucial role in past racial oppression, there remains wide disagreement among philosophers and (...) social theorists about a role for racial categorization in future endeavors. At one extreme of this disagreement are short-term eliminativists who want to eliminate racial categorization relatively quickly (e.g. Appiah 1995, D’Souza 1996, Muir 1993, Wasserstrom 2001 (1980), Webster 1992, Zack 1993, 2002), typically because they view it as mistaken and oppressive. At the opposite extreme, long-term conservationists hold that racial identities and communities are beneficial and that racial categorization – suitably reformed – is essential to fostering them (e.g. Outlaw 1990, 1995, 1996). In between these two poles, there are many who believe that racial categorization is valuable (and perhaps necessary). (shrink)
Psychological research has been discovering a number of puzzling features of morality and moral cognition recently.2 Zhong & Liljenquist (2006) found that when people are asked to think about an unethical deed or recall one they themselves have committed in the past, issues of physical cleanliness become salient. Zhong & Liljenquist cleverly designate this phenomenon the “Macbeth Effect,” and it takes some interesting forms. For instance, reading a story describing an immoral deed increased people’s desire for products related to cleansing, (...) like a shower soap, disinfectants, or antiseptic wipes. Moreover, Zhong & Liljenquist found that cleaning one’s hands after describing a past unethical deed actually reduced moral emotions such as guilt and shame. So much so that those who did “wash away their sins” were less likely than other participants to help out a.. (shrink)
Race is one of the most common variables in the social sciences, used to draw correlations between racial groups and numerous other important variables such as education, healthcare outcomes, aptitude tests, wealth, employment and so forth. But where concern with race once reflected the view that races were biologically real, many, if not most, contemporary social scientists have abandoned the idea that racial categories demarcate substantial, intrinsic biological differences between people. This, in turn, raises an important question about the significance (...) of race in those social sciences: if there is no biological basis of race, why are racial categories useful to social scientists? More specifically, in virtue of what are racial categories a successful basis of informative, important social scientific generalizations? 2 We’ll call this social science’s race puzzle. (shrink)
At the end of a chapter in his book Race, Racism and Reparations, Angelo Corlett notes that “[t]here remain other queries about racism [than those he addressed in his chapter], which need philosophical exploration. … Perhaps most important, how might racism be unlearned?” (2003, 93). We agree with Corlett’s assessment of its importance, but find that philosophers have not been very keen to directly engage with the issue of how to best deal with, and ultimately do away with, racism. Rather, (...) they have tended to make cursory remarks about the issue at the end of papers devoted to defining “racism” or attempting to capture the essence of racism itself. In this article, we put the issue of how to best deal with racism front and center. We need not start from scratch, however. Despite not being central to many philosophical discussions about race, a number of different strategies for dealing with racism have been suggested. To that end, we have identified three of the most concrete proposals made by philosophers and social theorists, each of which seeks to mitigate racism by inducing psychological changes in individuals.2 For each, we formulate the.. (shrink)
A core question of contemporary social morality concerns how we ought to handle racial categorization. By this we mean, for instance, classifying or thinking of a person as Black, Korean, Latino, White, etc.² While it is widely FN:2 agreed that racial categorization played a crucial role in past racial oppression, there remains disagreement among philosophers and social theorists about the ideal role for racial categorization in future endeavors. At one extreme of this disagreement are short-term eliminativists who want to do (...) away with racial categorization relatively quickly (e.g. Appiah, 1995; D’Souza, 1996; Muir, 1993; Wasserstrom, 2001/1980; Webster, 1992; Zack, 1993, 2002), typically because they view it as mistaken and oppressive. At the opposite end of the spectrum, long-term conservationists hold that racial identities and communities are beneﬁcial, and that racial categorization —suitably reformed —is essential to fostering them (e.g. Outlaw, 1990, 1995, 1996). While extreme forms of conservationism have fewer proponents in academia than the most radical eliminativist positions, many theorists advocate more moderate positions. In between the two poles, there are many who believe that racial categorization is valuable (and perhaps necessary) given the continued existence of racial inequality and the lingering effects of past racism (e.g. Haslanger, 2000; Mills, 1998; Root, 2000; Shelby, 2002, 2005; Sundstrom, 2002; Taylor, 2004; Young, 1989). Such authors agree on the short-term need for racial categorization in at least some domains, but they often differ with regard to its long-term value. (shrink)
Some mental states are about things. For instance, the belief that the cat is white is about the cat. States that are about things are intentional, that is, they have content. The precise nature of intentional states is a matter of dispute.What makes some states, but not others, intentional? Of those states that are intentional, what makes them about what they are about as opposed to something else, i.e. what gives them their specific content?
We first describe recent empirical research on racial cognition, particularly work on implicit racial biases that suggests they are widespread, that they can coexist with explicitly avowed anti-racist and tolerant attitudes, and that they influence behavior in a variety of subtle but troubling ways. We then consider a cluster of questions that the existence and character of implicit racial biases raise for moral theory. First, is it morally condemnable to harbor an implicit racial bias? Second, ought each of us to (...) suspect ourselves of racial bias, and therefore correct for it in ordinary activity, such as grading student papers? (shrink)
In this paper we compare two theories about the cognitive architecture underlying morality. One theory, proposed by Sripada and Stich (forthcoming), posits an interlocking set of innate mechanisms that internalize moral norms from the surrounding community and generate intrinsic motivation to comply with these norms and to punish violators. The other theory, which we call the M/C model was suggested by the widely discussed and influential work of Elliott Turiel, Larry Nucci and others on the “moral/conventional task”. This theory posits (...) two distinct mental domains, the moral and the conventional, each of which gives rise to a characteristic suite of judgments about rules in that domain and about transgressions of those rules. We give an overview of both theories and of the data each was designed to explain. We go on to consider a growing body of evidence that suggests the M/C model is mistaken. That same evidence, however, is consistent with the Sripada and Stich theory. Thus, we conclude that the M/C model does not pose a serious challenge for the Sripada and Stich theory. (shrink)
The moral/conventional task has been widely used to study the emergence of moral understanding in children and to explore the deficits in moral understanding in clinical populations. Previous studies have indicated that moral transgressions, particularly those in which a victim is harmed, evoke a signature pattern of responses in the moral/conventional task: they are judged to be serious, generalizable and not authority dependent. Moreover, this signature pattern is held to be pan-cultural and to emerge early in development. However, almost all (...) the evidence for these claims comes from studies using harmful transgressions of the sort that primary school children might commit in the schoolyard. In a study conducted on the Internet, we used a much wider range of harm transgressions, and found that they do not evoke the signature pattern of responses found in studies using only schoolyard transgressions. Paralleling other recent work, our study provides preliminary grounds for skepticism regarding many conclusions drawn from earlier research using the moral/conventional task. (shrink)
Although we are enthusiastic about a Darwinian approach to culture, we argue that the overview presented in the target article does not sufficiently emphasize the crucial explanatory role that psychology plays in the study of culture. We use a number of examples to illustrate the variety of ways by which appeal to psychological factors can help explain cultural phenomena.
We discuss the implications of the findings reported in the target article for moral theory, and argue that they represent a clear and genuine case of fundamental moral disagreement. As such, the findings support a moderate form of moral anti-realism – the position that, for some moral issues, there is no fact of the matter about what is right and wrong.
Questions regarding the nature of moral judgment loom large in moral philosophy. Perhaps the most basic of these questions asks how, exactly, moral judgments and moral rules are to be defined; what features distinguish them from other sorts of rules and judgments? A related question concerns the extent to which emotion and reason guide moral judgment. Are moral judgments made mainly on the basis of reason, or are they primarily the products of emotion? As an example of the former view, (...) Kant held all moral requirements to be derived from a principle of rationality (the categorical imperative). As an example of the latter, Hume famously claimed that reason is “the slave of the passions” and that moral judgments stem from the moral emotions. (shrink)