This book is a provocative contribution to contemporary ethical theory challenging foundational conceptions of character that date back to Aristotle. John Doris draws on behavioral science, especially social psychology, to argue that we misattribute the causes of behavior to personality traits and other fixed aspects of character rather than to the situational context. More often than not it is the situation not the nature of the personality that really counts. The author elaborates the philosophical consequences of this research for (...) a whole array of ethical theories and shows that, once rid of the misleading conception of motivation, moral psychology can support more robust ethical theories and more humane ethical practices. (shrink)
Do we know what we're doing, and why? Psychological research seems to suggest not: reflection and self-awareness are surprisingly uncommon and inaccurate. John M. Doris presents a new account of agency and responsibility, which reconciles our understanding of ourselves as moral agents with empirical work on the unconscious mind.
While there is now considerable anxiety about whether the psychological theory presupposed by virtue ethics is empirically sustainable, analogous issues have received little attention in the virtue epistemology literature. This paper argues that virtue epistemology encounters challenges reminiscent of those recently encountered by virtue ethics: just as seemingly trivial variation in context provokes unsettling variation in patterns of moral behavior, trivial variation in context elicits unsettling variation in patterns of cognitive functioning. Insofar as reliability is a condition on epistemic virtue, (...) we have reason to doubt that human beings possess the cognitive materials required for epistemic virtue, and thereby reason to think that virtue epistemology is threatened by skepticism. We conclude that while virtue epistemology has resources for addressing this challenge, exploiting these resources forces tradeoffs between empirical and normative adequacy. (shrink)
Moral psychology investigates human functioning in moral contexts, and asks how these results may impact debate in ethical theory. This work is necessarily interdisciplinary, drawing on both the empirical resources of the human sciences and the conceptual resources of philosophical ethics. The present article discusses several topics that illustrate this type of inquiry: thought experiments, responsibility, character, egoism v . altruism, and moral disagreement.
We begin, in section 2, with a brief sketch of a cluster of assumptions about human desires, beliefs, actions, and motivation that are widely shared by historical and contemporary authors on both sides in the debate. With this as background, we’ll be able to offer a more sharply focused account of the debate. In section 3, our focus will be on links between evolutionary theory and the egoism/altruism debate. There is a substantial literature employing evolutionary theory on each side of (...) the issue. However, it is our contention that neither camp has offered a convincing case. We are much more sanguine about recent research on altruism in social psychology, which will be our topic in section 4. Though we don’t think this work has resolved the debate, we will argue that it has made illuminating progress – progress that philosophers interested in the question cannot afford to ignore. (shrink)
While nothing justiﬁes atrocity, many perpetrators manifest cognitive impairments that profoundly degrade their capacity for moral judgment, and such impairments, we shall argue, preclude the attribution of moral responsibility.
A great deal of fascinating research has gone into an attempt to uncover the fundamental criteria that people use when assigning moral responsibility. Nonetheless, it seems that most existing accounts fall prey to one counterexample or another. The underlying problem, we suggest, is that there simply isn't any single system of criteria that people apply in all cases of responsibility attribution. Instead, it appears that people use quite different criteria in different kinds of cases. [This paper was originally circulated under (...) the title 'Strawsonian Variations.']. (shrink)
This paper is a critical discussion of Manuel Vargas’ Building Better Beings, focusing on the treatment of desert therein. By means of an analogy between morality and sport, I examine some seemingly peculiar implications of Vargas’ teleological and revisionary account of desert. I also consider some general questions of philosophical methodology provoked by revisionary approaches.
Philosophical accounts of moral responsibility are standardly framed by two platitudes. According to them, blame requires the presence of a moral defect in the agent and the absence of excuses. In this chapter, this kind of approach is challenged. It is argued that (a) people sometimes violate moral norms due to performance mistakes, (b) it often appears reasonable to hold them responsible for it, and (c) their mistakes cannot be traced to their moral qualities or to the presence of excuses. (...) In the end, the implications for discussions of moral responsibility are discussed. (shrink)
Is it harder to acquire knowledge about things that really matter to us than it is to acquire knowledge about things we don't much care about? Jason Stanley 2005 argues that whether or not the relational predicate 'knows that' holds between an agent and a proposition can depend on the practical interests of the agent: the more it matters to a person whether p is the case, the more justification is required before she counts as knowing that p. The evidence (...) for Stanley's thesis includes a number of intuitive judgments about examples. In this paper we provide parallel examples for which Stanley's thesis requires unwelcome knowledge-attributions, and argue that this is possible because his thesis conflicts with familiar and plausible principles about knowledge. (shrink)
The Moral Psychology Handbook offers a comprehensive discussion of how the human mind influences, and is influenced by, human morality. Each chapter is a collaborative effort, covering major issues in moral psychology, written by leading researchers in both philosophy and psychology.
Jesse Prinz’s The Emotional Construction of Morals is among the most significant of illuminations of human morality to appear in recent years. This embarrassment of riches presents the space-starved commentator with a dilemma: survey the book’s extraordinary sweep, and slight the textured argumentation, or engage a fraction of the argumentation, and slight the sweep. I’ll fall on the second horn, and focus mostly on Chapter 7, ‘The Genealogy of Morals’. Like Prinz , 1 I think that genealogical arguments have not, (...) despite their frequent appearance, received enough self-conscious discussion in ethical theorizing; I’ll try to extend Prinz’s amelioration of this neglect, by making some recurring themes explicit. In so doing, I indulge myself in a bit of therapy. I’ve always regarded genealogical arguments with certain ambivalence: genealogies frequently make a beguiling first impression, but just as often, when one gets to know them, their appeal turns out to be superficial. In articulating the contrasting uses to which genealogical arguments might be put, I hope to distinguish uses that deliver real substance from uses where the promise is not realized in the practice.Genealogical arguments are indelibly associated with Nietzsche, so it is unsurprising that Prinz in this chapter parts company with Hume, his usual muse, 2 and takes up, somewhat ambivalently , a Nietzschean torch. I won’t fret the historical details, nor will I trouble myself over where Nietzsche ends and Prinz begins; I’ll simply raise some general issues about genealogy and ethics. 3The Nietzschean insight, according to Prinz , is that ‘the values we currently cherish have a history’ and this history ‘may not be pretty’. Notoriously, Nietzsche was a bit grumpy about Christianity, and he supposed that tracing morality through the dark and labyrinthine history of the Church would unmask the attendant values …. (shrink)
Use of symbols, the key to the biosemiotics field as to many others, required bigger brains which implied a promissory note for greater energy consumption; symbols are obviously expensive. A score years before the current estimate of 18–20% for the human brain’s metabolic demand on the organism, it was known that neural tissue is metabolically dear. This paper first discusses two evolutionary responses to this demand, on both of which there is some consensus. The first, assigning care of altricial infants (...) with burgeoning brains (and in human infants the metabolic demand peaks at 65% of the total) to “allomothers” is not unique to humans. The second, using relatively small neurons as primates do, risks misfires past a certain minimal value. Moreover, in apparent paradox, there is an increasing consensus that large “Von Economo” neurons are critical for communication. This paper’s main contribution is the discussion of two further evolutionary tricks. The first is the use of self-similarity in the cortex, both in structure and process, to allow the cortex readily—and in energetic terms, parsimoniously—to shift between states in a high-dimensional space. This leads to discussion of the kind of formalism appropriate to model these shifts, a formalism which—it is tentatively suggested—may do double duty for the modeling of symbolic thought. The second trick is the superimposition on the background “white noise” of neural firing of EEG-detected waves like gamma. The paper describes a method, using the Hilbert transform, of calculating the dips in energy consumption as the brain is transitioned by gamma waves. It is hypothesized that consciousness may be a spandrel, the incidental result of a neurodynamic imperative that the brain enter a maximally sensitive (in sensory terms) “zero power” state a few times a second. If that is the case, then there are obvious benefits for health in meditation, which can be viewed as a state of consciousness extended over time by limiting afferent stimuli. (shrink)
Recent policy debates in the US over access to mental health care have raised several philosophically complex ethical and conceptual issues. The defeat of mental health parity legislation in the US Congress has brought new urgency and relevance to theoretical and empirical investigations into the nature of mental illness and its relation to other forms of sickness and disability. Manifold, nebulous, and often competing conceptions of mental illness make the creation of coherent public policy exceedingly difficult. Referencing a variety of (...) approaches to ethical reflection on health care, and drawing from the empirical literature on therapeutic efficacy and economic efficiency, we argue that differential rationing, ‘disparity,’ is unjustifiable. (shrink)
Orestes has returned to Argos, . For him to brandish at his father's murderers is natural there, where he is delivering a sort of general manifesto as to his aims, and where the strong word is justified and alleviated by the jingle with juxtaposed . But there is no reason for Orestes to go on insisting on the bloodthirstiness of these aims, and reads oddly in 100, where he is explaining soberly his plan of campaign.