Moral psychology studies the features of cognition, judgement, perception and emotion that make human beings capable of moral action. Perspectives from feminist and race theory immensely enrich moral psychology. Writers who take these perspectives ask questions about mind, feeling, and action in contexts of social difference and unequal power and opportunity. These essays by a distinguished international cast of philosophers explore moral psychology as it connects to social life, scientific studies, and literature.
According to classical arguments, language learning is both facilitated and constrained by cognitive biases. These biases are reflected in linguistic typology—the distribution of linguistic patterns across the world's languages—and can be probed with artificial grammar experiments on child and adult learners. Beginning with a widely successful approach to typology (Optimality Theory), and adapting techniques from computational approaches to statistical learning, we develop a Bayesian model of cognitive biases and show that it accounts for the detailed pattern of results of artificial (...) grammar experiments on noun-phrase word order (Culbertson, Smolensky, & Legendre, 2012). Our proposal has several novel properties that distinguish it from prior work in the domains of linguistic theory, computational cognitive science, and machine learning. This study illustrates how ideas from these domains can be synthesized into a model of language learning in which biases range in strength from hard (absolute) to soft (statistical), and in which language-specific and domain-general biases combine to account for data from the macro-level scale of typological distribution to the micro-level scale of learning by individuals. (shrink)
This landmark study examines the role played by the rediscovery of the writings of the ancient atomists, Epicurus and Lucretius, in the articulation of the major philosophical systems of the seventeenth century, and, more broadly, their influence on the evolution of natural science and moral and political philosophy. The target of sustained and trenchant philosophical criticism by Cicero, and of opprobrium by the Christian Fathers of the early Church, for its unflinching commitment to the absence of divine supervision and the (...) finitude of life, the Epicurean philosophy surfaced again in the period of the Scientific Revolution, when it displaced scholastic Aristotelianism. Both modern social contract theory and utilitarianism in ethics were grounded in its tenets. Catherine Wilson shows how the distinctive Epicurean image of the natural and social worlds took hold in philosophy, and how it is an acknowledged, and often unacknowledged presence in the writings of Descartes, Gassendi, Hobbes, Boyle, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley. With chapters devoted to Epicurean physics and cosmology, the corpuscularian or "mechanical" philosophy, the question of the mortality of the soul, the grounds of political authority, the contested nature of the experimental philosophy, sensuality, curiosity, and the role of pleasure and utility in ethics, the author makes a persuasive case for the significance of materialism in seventeenth-century philosophy without underestimating the depth and significance of the opposition to it, and for its continued importance in the contemporary world. Lucretius's great poem, On the Nature of Things, supplies the frame of reference for this deeply-researched inquiry into the origins of modern philosophy. (shrink)
This paper argues that we can acknowledge the existence of moral truths and moral progress without being committed to moral realism. Rather than defending this claim through the more familiar route of the attempted analysis of the ontological commitments of moral claims, I show how moral belief change for the better shares certain features with theoretical progress in the natural sciences. Proponents of the better theory are able to convince their peers that it is formally and empirically superior to its (...) rivals, and the better theory may be promoted to the status of the truth. Yet there is no 'decision-procedure' for ethics any more than there is for molecular biology. The betterness of true theories can be grasped through what I term 'undirectional narratives' of progress. And while there are true moral claims and perhaps numerous moral truths yet to be discovered, we should reject currently popular forms of moral realism with bivalence. Some moral claims lend themselves to the construction of fully reversible, bi-directional narratives and are likely neither true nor false. (shrink)
Poetry, drama and the novel present readers and viewers with emotionally significant situations that they often experience as moving, and their being so moved is one of the principal motivations for engaging with fictions. If emotions are considered as action-prompting beliefs about the environment, the appetite for sad or frightening drama and literature is difficult to explain, insofar nothing tragic or frightening is actually happening to the reader, and people do not normally enjoy being sad or frightened. The paper argues (...) that the somewhat limited and problematic epistemological framework for dealing with the question of fiction-induced emotions has been enhanced by a better empirical understanding of the role of the emotions in social animals and in our individual hedonic economies, as well as by a more generous philosophical assessment of what counts as ‘real’. Literary works can be understood further as monuments to experiences of loss that memorialize the highly pleasurable attachments associated with them. (shrink)
Introduction Future HIV vaccine efficacy trials with adolescents will need to ensure that participants comprehend study concepts in order to confer true informed assent. A Hepatitis B vaccine trial with adolescents offers valuable opportunity to test youth understanding of vaccine trial requirements in general. Methods Youth reviewed a simplified assent form with study investigators and then completed a comprehension questionnaire. Once enrolled, all youth were tested for HIV and confirmed to be HIV-negative. Results 123 youth completed the questionnaire (mean age=15 (...) years; 63% male; 70% Hispanic). Overall, only 69 (56%) youth answered all six questions correctly. Conclusions Youth enrolled in a Hepatitis B vaccine trial demonstrated variable comprehension of the study design and various methodological concepts, such as treatment group masking. (shrink)
This essay offers a defence of the non-cognitivist approach to the interpretation of moral judgments as disguised imperatives corresponding to social rules. It addresses the body of criticism that faced R. M. Hare, and that currently faces moral anti-realists, on two levels, by providing a full semantic analysis of evaluative judgments and by arguing that anti-realism is compatible with moral aspiration despite the non-existence of obligations as the externalist imagines them. A moral judgment consists of separate descriptive and prescriptive components (...) and is to be understood as a declarative statement prefaced by an 'ideality operator'. Moral beliefs are genuinely representational, but their truth conditions can only be stated with reference to imaginary ideal worlds. Moral judgments are neither confirmed nor verified, but alternative moral positions are preferentially endorsed and adopted by individual agents on the basis of their perceived all-things-considered optimality. High aspiration moralities are normally very costly to agents in terms of their prudential and aesthetic interests, but they are theoretically as eligible as the adoption of other, less demanding sets of rules. (shrink)
ABSTRACTHume was not a philosopher famed for what are sometimes called ‘ontological commitments'. Nevertheless, few contemporary scholars doubt that Hume was an atheist, and the present essay tenders the view that Hume was favourably disposed to the 'vital materialism' of post-Newtonian natural philosophers in England, Scotland and France. Both internalist arguments, collating passages from a range of Hume's works, and externalist arguments, reviewing the likely sources of his knowledge of ancient materialism and his association with his materialistic contemporaries are employed.
Locke's insistence on the limits of knowledge and the of our epistemological equipment is well understood; it is rightly seen as integrated with his causal theory of ideas and his theory of judgment. Less attention has been paid to the mediocrity theme as it arises in his theory of moral agency. Locke sees definite limits to human willpower. This is in keeping with post-Puritan theology with its new emphasis on divine mercy as opposed to divine justice and recrimination. It also (...) reflects his view that human beings are essentially material machines. (shrink)
An overview of the influence of Lucretius poem On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura) on the renaissance and scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and an examination of its continuing influence over physical atomism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Moral properties are widely held to be response-dependent properties of actions, situations, events and persons. There is controversy as to whether the putative response-dependence of these properties nullifies any truth-claims for moral judgements, or rather supports them. The present paper argues that moral judgements are more profitably compared with theoretical judgements in the natural sciences than with the judgements of immediate sense-perception. The notion of moral truth is dependent on the notion of moral knowledge, which in turn is best understood (...) as a possible endpoint of theory change for the better. (shrink)
I offer a Darwinian perspective on the existence of aesthetic interests, tastes, preferences, and productions. It is distinguished from the approaches of Denis Dutton and Geoffrey Miller, drawing instead on Richard O. Prum's notion of biotic artworlds. The relevance of neuroaesthetics to the philosophy of art is defended.
Leibniz entertained the idea that, as a set of “striving possibles” competes for existence, the largest and most perfect world comes into being. The paper proposes 8 criteria for a Leibniz-world. It argues that a) there is no algorithm e.g., one involving pairwise compossibility-testing that can produce even possible Leibniz-worlds; b) individual substances presuppose completed worlds; c) the uniqueness of the actual world is a matter of theological preference, not an outcome of the assembly-process; and d) Goedel’s theorem implies that (...) there can be no algorithm for producing optimal worlds, assuming an optimal world contains truth-discerning creatures, though this is not to say that such worlds cannot arise naturally. (shrink)
In Moral Animals, Catherine Wilson develops a theory of morality based on two fundamental premises: first that moral progress implies the evolution of moral ideals involving restraint and sacrifice; second that human beings are outfitted by nature with selfish motivations, intentions, and ambitions that place constraints on what morality can demand of them. Normative claims, she goes on to show, can be understood as projective hypotheses concerning the conduct of realistically-described nonideal agents in preferred fictional worlds. Such claims differ from (...) empirical hypotheses, insofar as they cannot be verified by observation and experiment. Yet many, though not all, moral claims are susceptible of confirmation to the extent that they command the agreement of well-informed inquirers. With this foundation in place, Wilson turns to a defense of egalitarianism intended to address the objection that the importance of our non-moral projects, our natural acquisitiveness and partiality, and our meritocratic commitments render social equality a mere abstract ideal. Employing the basic notion of a symmetrical division of the co-operative surplus, she argues that social justice with respect to global disparities in well-being, and in the condition of women relative to men, depends on the relinquishment of natural and acquired advantage that is central to the concept of morality. (shrink)
In this essay, I argu e that Descartes considered his theory that the body is an inn ervated machine in which the soul is situated to be his most original contribution to philosophy. His ambition to prove the immortality of the soul was very poorly realized, a predictable outcome, insofar as his aims were ethical, not theological. His dualism accordingly requires reassessment.
There is probably no subject in the philosophy of art which has prompted more impassioned theorizing than the question of the ‘cognitive value’ of works of art. ‘In the end’, one influential critic has stated, ‘I do not distinguish between science and art except as regards method. Both provide us with a view of reality and both are indispensable to a complete understanding of the universe.’ If a man is not prepared to distinguish between science and art one may well (...) wonder what he is prepared to distinguish between, but in all fairness it should be pointed out that the writings of anti-cognitivists contain equally strenuous statements of doctrine. For I. A. Richards, poetry consists of ‘pseudo-statements’ which are ‘true’ if they ‘suit and serve some attitude or link together attitudes which on other grounds are desirable’. (shrink)