Cognitive Science and Morality Workshop

9:30am Opening remarks: David Lightfoot9:40am Jon Haidt, Psychology, University of Virginia.

The rationalist delusion in moral psychology

I will survey evidence indicating that thinking is for doing, not for knowing. More specifically, 
reasoning evolved and is well-designed to serve social functions such as reputation management 
and navigation within a complex world of accountability constraints. To maintain that moral 
reasoning is (or should be) more important or more trusted than moral intuition, in the absence of 
evidence that people can reason dispassionately about moral issues, meets Webster’s definition 
of a delusion: a false conception and persistent belief unconquerable by reason in something that 
has no existence in fact. 

10:30 am Darcia Narcaez, Psychology, Notre Dame University

The moral zone: using the whole brain to solve moral problems

Triune Ethics Theory proposes that moral functioning is rooted in biological processes that are 
shaped by early experience and evoked by situations. Each moral orientation influences 
perception, goals, and perceived affordances at the moment. The Security Ethic is a conditioned, 
reflexive response to a perceived threat. Typically studied by psychology, the Imagination Ethic is 
abstracted thinking (left brain), which can be emotionally disassociated or fueled by viciousness. 
The “moral zone” has two orientations. The simpler, here-and-now orientation is Engagement or 
Harmony Morality. It represents full (right brain) presence at the moment for intersubjectivity 
and resonance with the Other. Communal Imagination maintains a sense of emotional 
relatedness to the Other (right brain), while at the same time using abstraction capabilities (left 
brain) to solve moral problems. 

11:15 am Bryce Huebner, Philosophy, Georgetown University

But it still ain’t emotion

In Huebner et al (2009), we argued that Haidt and others had been too quick to draw the 
conclusion that emotional processes played an integral role in the production of moral 
judgments. However, a recent conversation with Haidt made it clear to me that his view was far 
more sophisticated than this. It now seems to me that on most points the ‘cognitivists’ and the 
‘Humeans’ can just agree that moral judgment is a largely reflexive and intuitive process. Yet, I 
still have the sneaking suspicion that many neo-Humeans are convinced that emotions–as such–
play a crucial causal role in the production of moral judgments. I’ll present a series of data–
ranging from attempted replications of well-known studies, to new manipulations on clinical 
populations–to suggest that there is an important range of moral competence that dominates our 
moral judgments even in the face of emotional manipulations and emotional deficits. 

12:00pm Jordan Grafman, NIH, NINDS

12:45 pm lunch 

1:30 pm John Mikhail, Law Center, Georgetown University

Moral Grammar and Intuitive Jurisprudence: Theory, Evidence, and Future Research

Scientists from various disciplines have begun to focus renewed attention on the psychology and 
biology of human morality. One research program that has gained attention is universal moral 
grammar (UMG). UMG seeks to describe the nature and origin of moral knowledge by using 
concepts and models similar to those used in Chomsky’s program in linguistics. This approach is 
thought to provide a fruitful perspective from which to investigate moral competence from 
computational, ontogenetic, behavioral, physiological, and phylogenetic perspectives. In my 
talk, I first outline a framework for UMG and describe some of the evidence supporting it. I then 
discuss some initial findings of a new related study in comparative law that seeks to determine 
how certain norms, such as the prohibition of homicide, are codified and interpreted in several 
hundred jurisdictions around the world. The study’s main finding, the apparent universality or 
near-universality of a specific and highly structured homicide prohibition, lends further support to UMG. It also raises novel questions for cognitive science, legal anthropology, experimental philosophy, and related fields. 

2:15 pm Susan Dwyer, Philosophy, University of Maryland at College Park

Moral Psychology as a Branch of Cognitive Science

Philosophers and developmental psychologists no longer monopolize the study of moral 
psychology. The field is now the site of all manner of empirical investigation, from fMRI 
studies to moral judgment tasks in the lab and in naturalistic settings. The burgeoning 
interdisciplinary study of the nature of human moral judgment will no doubt contribute to our 
knowledge of how we came to be moral creatures as well as to our understanding of how moral 
judgment actually works as a capacity of the human mind. Still, significant caution is in order 
with respect to the shape of the questions we ask in pursuing moral psychology as a branch of 
cognitive science. I will draw attention to two significant challenges – the explananda challenge 
and the acquisition challenge and argue that, because these challenges are not sufficiently 
recognized in a good deal of current work on moral judgment, skepticism is in order with respect
to several allegedly key findings. 

3:00 pm Kevin Fitzgerald, SJ, Georgetown University

Neuroscience, ethics and the need for philosophical anthropology

Neuroscientific research has generated new perspectives regarding human cognitive processes, 
and, consequently, new considerations regarding how humans know and choose goods or the 
Good. However, regardless of the pace and extent of advances in neuroscience, the question 
remains of how this new information intersects with traditional and current concepts of the 
human Good and how we come to know it. It is this intersection of neuroscience and ethics that 
is the focus of this presentation. Two arguments will be offered regarding how this intersection 
should be structured. First, it will be argued that philosophical anthropologies are best suited to 
explicate and bridge the gap between neuroscience and ethics. Then, secondly, the claim will be 
made that philosophical anthropology must be both broadly integrative and dynamic in order to 
adequately bridge this gap. 

3:45 pm General discussion