The Science of Morality

Philosophical Foundations
 Three different domains of Morality
 Character
 Action
 Consequences
 Different ethical theories focus on the moral appraisal of
one of these domains
 Character
 Virtue Ethics
 Aristotle
Philosophical Foundations
 Two ways to evaluate action
 Deontological – Ethical decisions and actions are based on
Rational appraisal
 Sentimentalism – Ethical decisions and actions are based on
emotional appraisal
 Evaluating Consequences
 Utilitarianism – ends justifies the means
 Jeremy Bentham
 John Stuart Mill
David Hume (1711-1776)
 Sentimentalism
 Moral distinctions are not derived from
reason, but from Emotion
 Our emotions enable us to evaluate the
difference between virtue and vice
• Emotions provide an objective measure for morality
based on a common sentiment towards humanity
• Although moral virtue is rare, persons do not act
purely out of self-interest
Deontological Ethics
Immanuel Kant
 Moral principles are based on a rational
 Morality is based on duty
 Categorical Imperative
 Universal Principles of Conduct
 Moral laws are based on rational principles
that are universally binding
Jeremy Bentham
 Utilitarianism says that the Result or the
Consequence of an Act is the real measure of
whether it is good or bad.
 Utilitarian Calculus
 In determining the quantity that may be
produced by an action, we evaluate the possible
 Those consequences that lead to a greater
amount of happiness are good
Jonathon Haidt
 Julie and Mark are brother and sister. They
are traveling together in France on summer
vacation from college. One night they are
staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They
decide that it would be interesting and fun if
they tried making love. At the very least it
would be a new experience for each of them.
Julie was already taking birth control pills, but
Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe. They
both enjoy making love, but they decide not
to do it again. They keep that night as a
special secret, which makes them feel even
closer to each other.
 What do you think about that? Was it OK for
them to make love?
Morality Story
Jonathon Haidt
 Social Intuitionist Model
 Emotion serves as an intuition that directs our
assessment of a moral situation
 Moral reasoning follows based on the intuition
 Ad hoc explanation based on defending our
 Used to influence the intuitions of others
 Thus, one feels revulsion at the idea of incest
in the story
 Then, seeks to find a way to rationally defend
the intuition
Trolley Problem
Trolley Problem
Joshua Greene
 Competing Processes Theory
 Cognitive and emotional processes compete
in moral decision-making
 Impersonal
 Cognitive (Rational) Processes used in
 Thought of pulling a lever does not activate
emotional centers of brain
 Personal
 Emotional process used in appraisal
 Thought of pushing someone more
emotionally engaging
Marc Hauser
 Moral Decision-making based on Moral Module
 Similar to Chomsky and Pinker’s view of language
 Instinctive Moral Grammar directs analysis of
perceived actions
 Most cognitive processes are unconscious and
 Moral cognition is largely unconscious
 Not developed through instruction
 Not dependent upon religious institutions
Marc Hauser
 Prior to emotional and cognitive moral appraisals
 Evaluate actions based on three categories
 Permissible
 Obligatory
 Forbidden
 Color our perceptions
 Constrain options for moral decision
 Moral appraisal occurs within specific cultures,
but follows the grammar set by the moral module
 Wesley Autry
 Put his life in jeopardy to save
a stranger
 Jumped onto subway train
tracks to cover a person in
 Later replied, “I don’t feel like
I did something spectacular; I
just saw someone who
needed help. I did what I felt
was right.”
 The Story of Wesley Autry
 Holocaust Rescuers
 Risked their own life to
save Jewish persons
during the holocaust.
 When asked, many
rescuers didn’t feel like
they did anything
 They could not of
imagined doing
anything different
What is a Exemplar?
 Common definitions
 Someone who embodies certain admirable
 Serves as a point of reference
 By observing an exemplary person, one learns
how to exercise a particular trait
 For Virtuous exemplars
 These persons have characteristics that are
essential for the moral life
 These persons are examples for how to behave
Aristotle and Virtue Ethics
 Eudaimonia – happiness or the
good life
 Virtues are those those aspects of
character that lead to a good life
 Virtues flow naturally from the
character of moral exemplars
 Exemplars are persons who have
developed certain habits that
embody moral virtues
Aristotle and Virtue Ethics
 Acquiring virtue is not like
other intellectual pursuits
 Requires “phronesis” or
practical wisdom
 Virtues are acquired like the
skills of a master craftsman
 More of an unconscious
Contemporary Virtue Ethics:
Linda Zagzebski
 Exemplars are the starting point for virtue
 Concrete example of virtue to begin the
development of conceptual definitions
 Exemplars are distinguished by their
exercise of practical reason or phronesis
 Exemplars have the right motive, at the
right time
Contemporary Virtue Ethics:
Linda Zagzebski
 Motives are emotional states that lead to
correct moral actions
 Each emotion has a thick concept that
represents the intentional object of the
emotional state
 Emotions enable a person to see a situation
from a particular moral perspective
 Their emotions ready them for action
Contemporary Virtue Ethics:
Linda Zagzebski
 Emotions form the basic
dispositions of a person’s character
 Enduring moral traits
 Produces reliability and consistency in
moral character despite the context
 Developmental perspective on acquiring

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