People can be disgusted by the concrete and by the abstract -- by an object they find physically repellent or by an ideology or value system they find morally abhorrent. Different things will disgust different people, depending on individual sensibilities or cultural backgrounds. In _Yuck!_, Daniel Kelly investigates the character and evolution of disgust, with an emphasis on understanding the role this emotion has come to play in our social and moral lives. Disgust has recently been riding a swell of (...) scholarly attention, especially from those in the cognitive sciences and those in the humanities in the midst of the "affective turn." Kelly proposes a cognitive model that can accommodate what we now know about disgust. He offers a new account of the evolution of disgust that builds on the model and argues that expressions of disgust are part of a sophisticated but largely automatic signaling system that humans use to transmit information about what to avoid in the local environment. He shows that many of the puzzling features of moral repugnance tinged with disgust are by-products of the imperfect fit between a cognitive system that evolved to protect against poisons and parasites and the social and moral issues on which it has been brought to bear. Kelly's account of this emotion provides a powerful argument against invoking disgust in the service of moral justification. (shrink)
Our primary aim in this paper is to sketch a cognitive evolutionary approach for developing explanations of social change that is anchored on the psychological mechanisms underlying normative cognition and the transmission of social norms. We throw the relevant features of this approach into relief by comparing it with the self-fulfilling social expectations account developed by Bicchieri and colleagues. After describing both accounts, we argue that the two approaches are largely compatible, but that the cognitive evolutionary approach is well- suited (...) to encompass much of the social expectations view, whose focus on a narrow range of norms comes at the expense of the breadth the cognitive evolutionary approach can provide. (shrink)
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)
We argue that work on norms provides a way to move beyond debates between proponents of individualist and structuralist approaches to bias, oppression, and injustice. We briefly map out the geography of that debate before presenting Charlotte Witt’s view, showing how her position, and the normative ascriptivism at its heart, seamlessly connects individuals to the social reality they inhabit. We then describe recent empirical work on the psychology of norms and locate the notions of informal institutions and soft structures with (...) respect to it. Finally, we argue that the empirical resources enrich Witt’s ascriptivism, and that the resulting picture shows theorists need not, indeed should not, choose between either the individualist or structuralist camp. (shrink)
Public attitudes concerning cognitive enhancements are significant for a number of reasons. They tell us about how socially acceptable these emerging technologies are considered to be, but they also provide a window into the ethical reasons that are likely to get traction in the ongoing debates about them. We thus see Conrad et al’s project of empirically investigating the effect of metaphors and context in shaping attitudes about cognitive enhancements as both interesting and important. We sketch what we suspect is (...) a central theme that runs through these public attitudes, but that Conrad el al’s paper elides. We were disappointed that they did not more directly explore the efficacy of frames and metaphors associated with the values of authenticity and self-expression. This seems like a missed opportunity. Based on the premise that individualistic values enjoy centrality in Western and especially North American culture (e.g. Taylor 1989), we hypothesize that metaphors and frames informed by those values will be especially effective in shaping public attitudes. That is, when various kinds of novel enhancement are described as allowing people to more fully express themselves, or as helping people overcome obstacles to being authentic and true to their inner sense of themselves, those enhancements will be considered justified, and their use more likely to be viewed as socially acceptable by the public. We support our contention by drawing on work by Elliott (2004, 2011, c.f. Kadlac 2018), and discuss how this study, and others modeled on it, might shed light on our hypothesis. (shrink)
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. When addressing these issues, philosophers have largely relied on the traditional tools of philosophical analysis, along with introspection, anecdotal evidence and armchair speculation. In recent years, however, a rich body experimental psychology has emerged which, in the view of a growing number of philosophers, casts important new light on these venerable questions. Our aim, in this chapter, is to illustrate how empirical methods can help move traditional philosophical debates forward in interesting and important ways. Since space does not permit an exhaustive survey of the relevant experimental work, we will focus on a few of the most compelling examples. (shrink)
The view we defend is that in virtue of its nature, disgust is not fit to do any moral or social work whatsoever, and that there are no defensible uses for disgust in legal or political institutions. We first describe our favoured empirical theory of the nature of disgust. Turning from descriptive to normative issues, we address the best arguments in favour of granting disgust the power to justify certain judgements, and to serve as a social tool, respectively. Daniel Kahan (...) advances a pair of theses that suggest disgust is indispensable (Moral Indispensability Thesis), and so has an important part to play in the functioning of a just, well-ordered society (Conservation Thesis). We develop responses and show how they rebut the arguments given in support of each thesis. We conclude that any society free of social disgust would be more just, reasonable and compassionate. (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)
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)
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)
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)
We situate Henrich’s book in the larger research tradition of which it is a part and show how he presents a wide array of recent psychological, physiological, and neurological data as supporting the view that two related but distinct processes have shaped human nature and made us unique: cumulative cultural evolution and culture-driven genetic evolution. We briefly sketch out several ways philosophers might fruitfully engage with this view and note some implications it may have for current philosophic debates in moral (...) and political theory and over the nature of extended cognition. We end by noting how Henrich’s view of the source of cultural design and innovation, and the prominence of place he gives to the extended process of cultural evolution, cuts against a cluster of broad but common views about human minds, recasting putative bugs as features and indicating that many of the distinctive features of our individual minds evolved to allow them to be effective cogs in the larger, more productive cultural machine. (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)
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.
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)
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?
This dissertation explores issues in the philosophy of psychology and metaphysics through the lens of the emotion of disgust, and its corresponding property, disgustingness. The first chapter organizes an extremely large body of data about disgust, imposes two constraints any theory must meet, and offers a cognitive model of the mechanisms underlying the emotion. The second chapter explores the evolution of disgust, and argues for the Entanglement thesis: this uniquely human emotion was formed when two formerly distinct mechanisms, one dedicated (...) to monitoring food intake and protecting against poisons, the other dedicated to protecting against parasitic infection, where driven together until they became functionally integrated. The third chapter explores the sorts of acquisition mechanisms that could give rise to the patterns of individual and cultural level variation we find with disgust elicitors. It argues for the Empathic Acquisition thesis, which holds that one important route for the social acquisition and transmission of disgust elicitors is linked to empathic recognition of facial expressions of the emotion. The fourth chapter builds on the Entanglement thesis, and embeds the emotion of disgust in gene-culture coevolutionary theory and the tribal instincts hypothesis. The Co-opt thesis is defended, which maintains that disgust was co-opted to play an important role in our moral psychology, particularly in our cognition of social norms and ethnic boundary markers. In doing so, however, it brings to bear many features initially linked to poisons and parasites. This explains the puzzling and troublesome character of moral judgments linked to disgust. After shifting gears from psychology to metaphysics, the fifth chapter recasts the Humean tradition of projectivism in the terminology of cognitive science. Using examples such as disgust, I argue that a psychologized projectivism is able to make sense of the idea that some properties are projected onto the world, rather than found there to begin with. The final chapter criticizes three other accounts of the property of disgustingness, two inspired by functionalism in the philosophy of color, one inspired by fittingness accounts in metaethics. I argue that none provide nearly as satisfactory account of the property as the psychologized projectivism articulated previously. (shrink)
We discuss the implications of the Selfish Goal model for moral responsibility, arguing it suggests a form of skepticism we call the “locus problem.” In denying that individuals contain any genuine psychological core of information processing, the Selfish Goal model denies the kind of locus of control intuitively presupposed by ascriptions of responsibility. We briefly consider ways the problem might be overcome.
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)
In this book, leading Christian political thinkers and practitioners critique the Rawlsian concepts of “justice as fairness” and “public reason” from the perspective of Christian political theory and practice. It provides a new level of analysis from Christian perspectives, including implications for such hot topics as the culture war.