Moral Rationalism on the Brain

Mind and Language 38 (1):237-255 (2023)
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I draw on neurobiological evidence to defend the rationalist thesis that moral judgments are essentially dependent on reasoning, not emotions (conceived as distinct from inference). The neuroscience reveals that moral cognition arises from domain-general capacities in the brain for inferring, in particular, the consequences of an agent’s action, the agent’s intent, and the rules or norms relevant to the context. Although these capacities entangle inference and affect, blurring the reason/emotion dichotomy doesn’t preferentially support sentimentalism. The argument requires careful consideration of the empirical evidence (from neuroimaging to psychopathology) and philosophical analysis of the commitments of rationalism versus sentimentalism in ethics.

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Joshua May
University of Alabama, Birmingham


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