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Joshua May
University of Alabama, Birmingham
  1. Moral Reasoning and Emotion.Joshua May & Victor Kumar - forthcoming - In Karen Jones, Mark Timmons & Aaron Zimmerman (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology. Routledge.
    This chapter discusses contemporary scientific research on the role of reason and emotion in moral judgment. The literature suggests that moral judgment is influenced by both reasoning and emotion separately, but there is also emerging evidence of the interaction between the two. While there are clear implications for the rationalism-sentimentalism debate, we conclude that important questions remain open about how central emotion is to moral judgment. We also suggest ways in which moral philosophy is not only guided by empirical research (...)
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  2. Moral Responsibility and Mental Illness: A Call for Nuance.Matt King & Joshua May - 2018 - Neuroethics 11 (1):11-22.
    Does having a mental disorder, in general, affect whether someone is morally responsible for an action? Many people seem to think so, holding that mental disorders nearly always mitigate responsibility. Against this Naïve view, we argue for a Nuanced account. The problem is not just that different theories of responsibility yield different verdicts about particular cases. Even when all reasonable theories agree about what's relevant to responsibility, the ways mental illness can affect behavior are so varied that a more nuanced (...)
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  3. Practical Interests, Relevant Alternatives, and Knowledge Attributions: An Empirical Study.Joshua May, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Jay G. Hull & Aaron Zimmerman - 2010 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1 (2):265–273.
    In defending his interest-relative account of knowledge in Knowledge and Practical Interests (2005), Jason Stanley relies heavily on intuitions about several bank cases. We experimentally test the empirical claims that Stanley seems to make concerning our common-sense intuitions about these bank cases. Additionally, we test the empirical claims that Jonathan Schaffer seems to make in his critique of Stanley. We argue that our data impugn what both Stanley and Schaffer claim our intuitions about such cases are. To account for these (...)
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  4.  38
    Précis of Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind.Joshua May - forthcoming - Behavioral and Brain Sciences:1-20.
    Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind argues that a careful examination of the scientific literature reveals a foundational role for reasoning in moral thought and action. Grounding moral psychology in reason then paves the way for a defense of moral knowledge and virtue against a variety of empirical challenges, such as debunking arguments and situationist critiques. The book attempts to provide a corrective to current trends in moral psychology, which celebrates emotion over reason and generates pessimism about the psychological (...)
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  5. Does Disgust Influence Moral Judgment?Joshua May - 2014 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (1):125-141.
    Recent empirical research seems to show that emotions play a substantial role in moral judgment. Perhaps the most important line of support for this claim focuses on disgust. A number of philosophers and scientists argue that there is adequate evidence showing that disgust significantly influences various moral judgments. And this has been used to support or undermine a range of philosophical theories, such as sentimentalism and deontology. I argue that the existing evidence does not support such arguments. At best it (...)
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  6. The Limits of Appealing to Disgust.Joshua May - 2018 - In Nina Strohminger & Victor Kumar (eds.), The Moral Psychology of Disgust. Rowman & Littlefield.
    The rhetoric of disgust is common in moral discourse and political propaganda. Some believe it's pernicious, for it convinces without evidence. But scientific research now suggests that disgust is typically an effect, not a cause, of moral judgment. At best the emotion on its own only sometimes slightly amplifies a moral belief one already has. Appeals to disgust are thus dialectically unhelpful in discourse that seeks to convince. When opponents of abortion use repulsive images to make their case, they convince (...)
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  7. What in the World is Weakness of Will?Joshua May & Richard Holton - 2012 - Philosophical Studies 157 (3):341–360.
    At least since the middle of the twentieth century, philosophers have tended to identify weakness of will with akrasia—i.e. acting, or having a disposition to act, contrary to one‘s judgments about what is best for one to do. However, there has been some recent debate about whether this captures the ordinary notion of weakness of will. Richard Holton (1999, 2009) claims that it doesn’t, while Alfred Mele (2010) argues that, to a certain extent, it does. As Mele recognizes, the question (...)
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  8. On the Very Concept of Free Will.Joshua May - 2014 - Synthese 191 (12):2849-2866.
    Determinism seems to rule out a robust sense of options but also prevent our choices from being a matter of luck. In this way, free will seems to require both the truth and falsity of determinism. If the concept of free will is coherent, something must have gone wrong. I offer a diagnosis on which this puzzle is due at least in part to a tension already present in the very idea of free will. I provide various lines of support (...)
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  9.  17
    Repugnance as Performance Error: The Role of Disgust in Bioethical Intuitions.Joshua May - 2016 - In Steve Clarke, Julian Savulescu, C. A. J. Coady, Alberto Giubilini & Sagar Sanyal (eds.), The Ethics of Human Enhancement: Understanding the Debate. Oxford University Press. pp. 43-57.
    An influential argument in bioethics involves appeal to disgust, calling on us to take it seriously as a moral guide (e.g. Kass, Miller, Kahan). Some argue, for example, that genetic enhancement, especially via human reproductive cloning, is repellant or grotesque. While objectors have argued that repugnance is morally irrelevant (e.g. Nussbaum, Kelly), I argue that the problem is more fundamental: it is psychologically irrelevant. Examining recent empirical data suggests that disgust’s influence on moral judgment may be like fatigue: an exogenous (...)
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  10. Emotional Reactions to Human Reproductive Cloning.Joshua May - 2016 - Journal of Medical Ethics 42 (1):26-30.
    [Selected as EDITOR'S CHOICE] Background: Extant surveys of people’s attitudes toward human reproductive cloning focus on moral judgments alone, not emotional reactions or sentiments. This is especially important given that some (esp. Leon Kass) have argued against such cloning on the grounds that it engenders widespread negative emotions, like disgust, that provide a moral guide. Objective: To provide some data on emotional reactions to human cloning, with a focus on repugnance, given its prominence in the literature. Methods: This brief mixed-method (...)
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  11. Relational Desires and Empirical Evidence Against Psychological Egoism.Joshua May - 2011 - European Journal of Philosophy 19 (1):39–58.
    Roughly, psychological egoism is the thesis that all of a person's intentional actions are ultimately self-interested in some sense; psychological altruism is the thesis that some of a person's intentional actions are not ultimately self-interested, since some are ultimately other-regarding in some sense. C. Daniel Batson and other social psychologists have argued that experiments provide support for a theory called the "empathy-altruism hypothesis" that entails the falsity of psychological egoism. However, several critics claim that there are egoistic explanations of the (...)
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  12. Moral Judgment and Deontology: Empirical Developments.Joshua May - 2014 - Philosophy Compass 9 (11):745-755.
    A traditional idea is that moral judgment involves more than calculating the consequences of actions; it also requires an assessment of the agent's intentions, the act's nature, and whether the agent uses another person as a means to her ends. I survey experimental developments suggesting that ordinary people often tacitly reason in terms of such deontological rules. It's now unclear whether we should posit a traditional form of the doctrine of double effect. However, further research suggests that a range of (...)
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  13. Because I Believe It's the Right Thing to Do.Joshua May - 2013 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (4):791-808.
    Our beliefs about which actions we ought to perform clearly have an effect on what we do. But so-called “Humean” theories—holding that all motivation has its source in desire—insist on connecting such beliefs with an antecedent motive. Rationalists, on the other hand, allow normative beliefs a more independent role. I argue in favor of the rationalist view in two stages. First, I show that the Humean theory rules out some of the ways we ordinarily explain actions. This shifts the burden (...)
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  14.  85
    The Means/Side-Effect Distinction in Moral Cognition: A Meta-Analysis.Adam Feltz & Joshua May - 2017 - Cognition 166:314-327.
    Experimental research suggests that people draw a moral distinction between bad outcomes brought about as a means versus a side effect (or byproduct). Such findings have informed multiple psychological and philosophical debates about moral cognition, including its computational structure, its sensitivity to the famous Doctrine of Double Effect, its reliability, and its status as a universal and innate mental module akin to universal grammar. But some studies have failed to replicate the means/byproduct effect especially in the absence of other factors, (...)
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  15. Empathy and Intersubjectivity.Joshua May - 2017 - In Heidi Maibom (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy. New York: Routledge. pp. 169-179.
    Empathy is intersubjective in that it connects us mentally with others. Some theorists believe that by blurring the distinction between self and other empathy can provide a radical form of altruism that grounds all of morality and even a kind of immortality. Others are more pessimistic and maintain that in distorting the distinction between self and other empathy precludes genuine altruism. Even if these positions exaggerate self-other merging, empathy’s intersubjectivity can perhaps ground ordinary altruism and the rational recognition that one (...)
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  16. Psychological Egoism.Joshua May - 2011 - Internet Encyclopeida of Philosophy.
    Provides an overview of the theory of psychological egoism—the thesis that we are all ultimately motivated by self-interest. Philosophical arguments for and against the view are considered as well as some empirical evidence.
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  17. Egoism, Empathy, and Self-Other Merging.Joshua May - 2011 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 49 (s1):25-39.
    [Emerging Scholar Prize Essay for Spindel Supplement] Some philosophers and psychologists have evaluated psychological egoism against recent experimental work in social psychology. Dan Batson (1991; forthcoming), in particular, argues that empathy tends to induce genuinely altruistic motives in humans. However, some argue that there are egoistic explanations of the data that remain unscathed. I focus here on some recent criticisms based on the idea of self-other merging or "oneness," primarily leveled by Robert Cialdini and his collaborators (1997). These authors argue (...)
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  18. Skeptical Hypotheses and Moral Skepticism.Joshua May - 2013 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 43 (3):341-359.
    Moral skeptics maintain that we do not have moral knowledge. Traditionally they haven’t argued via skeptical hypotheses like those provided by perceptual skeptics about the external world, such as Descartes’ deceiving demon. But some believe this can be done by appealing to hypotheses like moral nihilism. Moreover, some claim that skeptical hypotheses have special force in the moral case. But I argue that skeptics have failed to specify an adequate skeptical scenario, which reveals a general lesson: such arguments are not (...)
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  19.  64
    A Limited Skeptical Threat. [REVIEW]Joshua May - 2018 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 41:35-6.
    Doris argues that our choices are heavily influenced by forces that we wouldn’t count as genuine reasons. This unsettling conclusion is motivated by a debunking argument so wide-ranging that it isn’t foisted upon us by the sciences. Doris sometimes seems to lower his ambitions when offering instead a skeptical hypothesis argument, but that conflicts with his aims in the book.
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  20. Does Opacity Undermine Privileged Access?Timothy Allen & Joshua May - 2014 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 22 (4):617-629.
    Carruthers argues that knowledge of our own propositional attitudes is achieved by the same mechanism used to attain knowledge of other people's minds. This seems incompatible with "privileged access"---the idea that we have more reliable beliefs about our own mental states, regardless of the mechanism. At one point Carruthers seems to suggest he may be able to maintain privileged access, because we have additional sensory information in our own case. We raise a number of worries for this suggestion, concluding that (...)
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  21. Empirical Work in Moral Psychology.Joshua May - 2017 - Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Provides an overview of empirical research relevant to philosophical questions about moral thought, feeling, reasoning, and motivation. Topics include: free will and moral responsibility, egoism and altruism, moral judgment and motivation, weakness and strength of will, moral intuitions, and moral knowledge. [Originally published in 2012. Updated and expanded in 2017.].
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  22. Does Belief in Dualism Protect Against Maladaptive Psycho-Social Responses to Deep Brain Stimulation? An Empirical Exploration.Jason Shepard & Joshua May - 2014 - American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 5 (4):40–42.
    We provide empirical evidence that people who believe in dualism are more likely to be uncomfortable with Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and to view it as threatening to their identity, humanity, or self. It is (neurocentric) materialists—who think the mind just is the brain—that are less inclined to fear DBS or to see it as threatening. We suggest various possible reasons for this connection. The inspiration for this brief report is a target article that addresses this issue from a theoretical (...)
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  23. Getting Less Cynical About Virtue.Joshua May - 2017 - In Walter Sinnott-Armstrong & Christian Miller (eds.), Moral Psychology, Volume V: Virtue and Character. MIT Press. pp. 45-52.
    This is a commentary on a paper by the social psychologist C. Daniel Batson. I too think virtue is rare, but not so rare as Batson seems to think, despite his ingenious experiments on "moral hypocrisy.".
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  24. Bound: Essays on Free Will and Responsibility, by Shaun Nichols. [REVIEW]Joshua May - 2016 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 94 (2):416-417.
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  25. Review of Experimental Philosophy Ed. By Knobe & Nichols. [REVIEW]Joshua May - 2010 - Philosophical Psychology 23 (5):711-715.
    Experimental philosophy is a new and somewhat controversial method of philosophical inquiry in which philosophers conduct experiments in order to shed light on issues of philosophical interest. This typically involves surveying ordinary people to find out their "intuitions" (roughly, pre-theoretical judgments) about hypothetical cases important to philosophical theorizing. The controversy surrounding this methodology arises largely because it departs from more traditional ways of doing philosophy. Moreover, some of its practitioners have used it to argue that the more traditional methods are (...)
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  26.  84
    Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind.Joshua May - 2018 - Oxford University Press.
    The burgeoning science of ethics has produced a trend toward pessimism. Ordinary moral thought and action, we’re told, are profoundly influenced by arbitrary factors and ultimately driven by unreasoned feelings. This book counters the current orthodoxy on its own terms by carefully engaging with the empirical literature. The resulting view, optimistic rationalism, shows the pervasive role played by reason, and ultimately defuses sweeping debunking arguments in ethics. The science does suggest that moral knowledge and virtue don’t come easily. However, despite (...)
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