On What Matters
Practical Equilibrium, Reflective Equilibrium, and Moral Choice

Neurosentimentalism and Moral Agency

Mark D. White

As it happens, the new issue of Mind (July 2010, go figure) has a paper that somewhat ties into Jonathan's post from yesterday (insofar as it focus on sentimentalism, not his evolutionary account thereof) as well as my work on agency and choice:

Neurosentimentalism and Moral Agency

Philip Gerrans and Jeanette Kennett

Abstract: Metaethics has recently been confronted by evidence from cognitive neuroscience that tacit emotional processes play an essential causal role in moral judgement. Most neuroscientists, and some metaethicists, take this evidence to vindicate a version of metaethical sentimentalism. In this paper we argue that the ‘dual process’ model of cognition that frames the discussion within and without philosophy does not do justice to an important constraint on any theory of deliberation and judgement. Namely, decision-making is the exercise of a capacity for agency. Agency, in turn, requires a capacity to conceive of oneself as temporally extended: to inhabit, in both memory and imagination, an autobiographical past and future. To plan, to commit to plans, and to act in accordance with previous plans requires a diachronic self, able to transcend the present moment. While this fact about agency is central to much of moral philosophy (e.g. in discussions of autonomy and moral responsibility) it is opaque to the dual process framework and those meta-ethical accounts which situate themselves within this model of cognition. We show how this is the case and argue for an empirically adequate account of moral judgement which gives sufficient role to memory and imagination as cognitive prerequisites of agency. We reconsider the empirical evidence, provide an alternative, agentive, interpretation of key findings, and evaluate the consequences for metaethics.

Very interesting!

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