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Morally irrelevant factors: What's left of the dual process-model of moral cognition?

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Current developments in empirical moral psychology have spawned a new perspective on the traditional metaethical question of whether moral judgment is based on reason or emotion. Psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists such as Joshua Greene argue that there is empirical evidence that emotion is essential for one particularly important subclass of moral judgments: so-called “deontological judgments.” In this paper, I scrutinize this claim and argue that neither the empirical evidence for Greene's dual process-theory of moral judgment nor the normative conclusions it is supposed to yield can be maintained. More specifically, I argue that the evidence from neuroimaging relies on a problematic reverse inference, that the behavioral data are flawed, and that the findings from focal brain damage do not support the model. From a normative point of view, Greene fails to show that we ought to discount the intuitions that give rise to deontological judgments because they respond to morally irrelevant factors: firstly, I show that they do not pick up on the factors Greene deems to be morally irrelevant in the first place, and secondly, I argue that there generally is reason to trust our deontological intuitions.

Keywords: Dual Process Theory; Joshua Greene; Metaethics; Moral Judgment; Trolley Problem

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2012

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