Brains, trains, and ethical claims: Reassessing the normative implications of moral dilemma research

Philosophical Psychology:1-25 (forthcoming)
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Joshua Greene has argued that the empirical findings of cognitive science have implications for ethics. In particular, he has argued (1) that people’s deontological judgments in response to trolley problems are strongly influenced by at least one morally irrelevant factor, personal force, and are therefore at least somewhat unreliable, and (2) that we ought to trust our consequentialist judgments more than our deontological judgments when making decisions about unfamiliar moral problems. While many cognitive scientists have rejected Greene’s dual-process theory of moral judgment on empirical grounds, philosophers have mostly taken issue with his normative assertions. For the most part, these two discussions have occurred separately. The current analysis aims to remedy this situation by philosophically analyzing the implications of moral dilemma research using the CNI model of moral decision-making – a formalized, mathematical model that decomposes three distinct aspects of moral-dilemma judgments. In particular, we show how research guided by the CNI model reveals significant conceptual, empirical, and theoretical problems with Greene’s dual-process theory, thereby questioning the foundations of his normative conclusions.

Author's Profile

Michael Dale
Eindhoven University of Technology


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