, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 195–209 | Cite as

On the normative insignificance of neuroscience and dual-process theory

  • Peter Königs
Original Paper


According to the dual-process account of moral judgment, deontological and utilitarian judgments stem from two different cognitive systems. Deontological judgments are effortless, intuitive and emotion-driven, whereas utilitarian judgments are effortful, reasoned and dispassionate. The most notable evidence for dual-process theory comes from neuroimaging studies by Joshua Greene and colleagues. Greene has suggested that these empirical findings undermine deontology and support utilitarianism. It has been pointed out, however, that the most promising interpretation of his argument does not make use of the empirical findings. In this paper, I engage with recent attempts by Greene to vindicate the moral significance of dual-process theory and the supporting neuroscientific findings. I consider their potential moral significance with regard to three aspects of Greene’s case against deontology: the argument from morally irrelevant factors, the functionalist argument and the argument from confabulation. I conclude that Greene fails to demonstrate how neuroscience and dual-process theory in general can advance moral theorizing.


Debunking arguments Joshua Greene Deontology Utilitarianism Neuroscience Dual-Process Theory, Selim Berker 



I would like to thank Katharina Brecht, Sabine Döring, Malte Hendrickx, Michael Wenzler and the anonymous referees of this article.


Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany

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