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Moral Intuitions and the Religious System: An Adaptationist Account

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The study of moral intuition has come to incorporate several disciplines, including philosophy, cognitive science, neuroscience, anthropology, and moral psychology. Despite its interdisciplinarity, the study of moral intuitions nevertheless remains centered on investigations of emotional cognition and evolved cognitive modules. Yet, there are difficulties in focusing so strongly on the cognitive mechanisms that underlie moral intuitions and so minimally on the social conventions that engender them. Furthermore, it is not clear that all moral intuitions reduce to evolved cognitive modules, as many leading theories purport. To address these concerns, we advance the discussion of moral intuitions by building on research concerning moral foundations theory. However, in contrast to most moral foundation theorists, who emphasize modularity, we emphasize the role of social conventions in the development of moral intuitions. We specifically argue that within religious communities some moral intuitions emerge from the dynamics of the religious system itself, rather than from a set of evolved cognitive modules. By advancing this argument, we discuss the advantages and implications of the religious system for the study of moral intuitions.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 June 2014

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  • Philosophy, Theology and the Sciences (PTSc) is a new peer-reviewed biannual journal which provides a platform for constructive and critical interactions between the natural sciences in all their varieties (from physics and biology to psychology, anthropology and social science) and the fields of contemporary philosophy and theology. It invites scholars, religious or non-religious, to participate in that endeavor. The journal provides the rare opportunity to examine together the truth claims found in theology, philosophy, and the sciences, as well as the methods found in each disciplines and the meanings derived from them. Each issue will have a topical focus.
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