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Department of Philosophy

Seminar

 By

Professor Folke Tersman

Department of Philosophy

Stockholm University

 

"Fresh Air? On Neuroscience and Normative Ethics"

(in English)

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Date : 15 February 2006 (Wednesday)
Time : 4:30 ˇV 6:00 pm
Venue : GE321

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Abstract

This paper explores the implications of certain recent empirical research regarding moral intuitions. In particular, it focuses on the work of Joshua Green and his collaborators at Princeton University. Greene and his group designed a set of experiments in which subjects were undergoing brain scanning (fMR imaging) as they were asked to respond to various practical dilemmas. They found that contemplation of some of these cases--cases where the subjects had to imagine that they must use some direct form of violence--elicited greater activity in certain areas of the brain associated with emotions compared with the other cases. This in turn was taken to suggest that certain evolved emotional responses have an important role in the formation of peopleˇ¦s moral intuitions about such cases.

It has been argued by Peter Singer that these results undermine the reliability of our intuitions in general, and therefore provide an objection to methods of moral reasoning that presuppose that they carry an evidential weight (such as the idea of reflective equilibrium). I examine two ways in which one may argue that Greeneˇ¦s results have any sceptical implications. On the first line of argument, only some intuitions are vulnerable to the criticism, but this criticism can easily be accommodated within the method of reflective equilibrium. On the second line, the findings have a role to play in a more general sceptical challenge. However, this challenge is not an objection specifically to the method of reflective equilibrium but to the idea that moral claims can be justified through rational argumentation in general. I end by making some remarks about what it would take to provide a satisfactory response to the challenge.  

Professor Folke Tersman

Folke Tersman is a Professor of Philosophy at Stockholm University, and is presently visiting professor at The University of Auckland. His main area of concentration is meta-ethics. His publications include Reflective Equilibrium (Almqvist & Wiksell, 1993), Moral Disagreement (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming in 2006) as well as a number of articles in journals such as Erkenntnis, Synthese, Philosophical Studies, and Philosophical Quarterly.

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