Does neuroscience undermine deontological theory?

Neuroethics 3 (1):43-60 (2009)
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Joshua Greene has argued that several lines of empirical research, including his own fMRI studies of brain activity during moral decision-making, comprise strong evidence against the legitimacy of deontology as a moral theory. This is because, Greene maintains, the empirical studies establish that “characteristically deontological” moral thinking is driven by prepotent emotional reactions which are not a sound basis for morality in the contemporary world, while “characteristically consequentialist” thinking is a more reliable moral guide because it is characterized by greater cognitive command and control. In this essay, I argue that Greene does not succeed in drawing a strong statistical or causal connection between prepotent emotional reactions and deontological theory, and so does not undermine the legitimacy of deontological moral theories. The results that Greene relies on from neuroscience and social psychology do not establish his conclusion that consequentialism is superior to deontology.



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Richard Dean
California State University, Los Angeles

References found in this work

Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals.Immanuel Kant - 1785 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Thomas E. Hill & Arnulf Zweig.
The metaphysics of morals.Immanuel Kant - 1797/1996 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Mary J. Gregor.
Critique of pure reason.Immanuel Kant - 2007 - In Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Late modern philosophy: essential readings with commentary. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 449-451.

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