Moral Lessons from Psychology: Contemporary Themes in Psychological Research and their relevance for Ethical Theory

Stockholm: Stockholm University (2020)
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The thesis investigates the implications for moral philosophy of research in psychology. In addition to an introduction and concluding remarks, the thesis consists of four chapters, each exploring various more specific challenges or inputs to moral philosophy from cognitive, social, personality, developmental, and evolutionary psychology. Chapter 1 explores and clarifies the issue of whether or not morality is innate. The chapter’s general conclusion is that evolution has equipped us with a basic suite of emotions that shape our moral judgments in important ways. Chapter 2 presents and investigates the challenge presented to deontological ethics by Joshua Greene’s so-called dual process theory. The chapter partly agrees with his conclusion that the dual process view neutralizes some common criticisms against utilitarianism founded on deontological intuitions, but also points to avenues left to explore for deontologists. Chapter 3 focuses on Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer’s suggestion that utilitarianism is less vulnerable to so-called evolutionary debunking than other moral theories. The chapter is by and large critical of their attempt. In the final chapter 4, attention is directed at the issue of whether or not social psychology has shown that people lack stable character traits, and hence that the virtue ethical view is premised on false or tenuous assumptions. Though this so-called situationist challenge at one time seemed like a serious threat to virtue ethics, the chapter argues for a moderate position, pointing to the fragility of much of the empirical research invoked to substantiate this challenge while also suggesting revisions to the virtue-ethical view as such.

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Henrik Ahlenius
Stockholm University


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