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On the Cognitive (Neuro)science of Moral Cognition: Utilitarianism, Deontology, and the “Fragmentation of Value”

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Abstract

Scientific explanations of human higher capacities, traditionally denied to other animals, attract the attention of philosophers and other workers in the humanities. They are often viewed with suspicion and skepticism. Against this background, I critically examine the dual-process theory of moral judgment proposed by Greene and collaborators and the normative consequences drawn from that theory. I believe normative consequences are warranted, in principle, but I propose an alternative dual-process model of moral cognition that leads to a different normative consequence, which I dub “the fragmentation of value” (Nagel. Mortal questions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1979). This alternative model abandons the neat overlap between the deontological/utilitarian and the intuitive/reflective divides. Instead, we have both utilitarian and deontological intuitions as equally fundamental and partially in tension. Cognitive control is sometimes engaged during a conflict between intuitions. When it is engaged, the result of control is not always utilitarian; sometimes it is deontological. I describe in some detail how this version is consistent with evidence reported by many studies and what could be done to find more evidence to support it.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Thanks to Josh Greene for sharing the data.

  2. 2.

    Impersonal harm is typically unintended and committed without exerting muscular force. In Sect. 6 we discuss these two aspects separately.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Josh Greene for sharing the data of the 2004 Neuron paper, to an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments, and to Wim De Neys for sharing work in press during the writings of this paper.

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Correspondence to Alejandro Rosas .

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Rosas, A. (2017). On the Cognitive (Neuro)science of Moral Cognition: Utilitarianism, Deontology, and the “Fragmentation of Value”. In: Ibáñez, A., Sedeño, L., García, A. (eds) Neuroscience and Social Science. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-68421-5_9

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