usual Humean and Moorean reasons.Contemporary proponents ofnaturalizedethics are aware ofthese objections,but in myopinion their theories do not adequately meetthem.Casebeer,for example,examines recentwork in neuroscientific moral psychology andfinds that actual moral decision-making looksmore like what Aristotle recommends
andless like what Kant
recommend.From this he concludes that the availableneuroscientific evidence counts against themoral theories ofKant and Mill,and infavour ofAristotle’s.This strikes me as a
.How do we go from ‘This is how wethink’to ‘This is how we oughtto think’? Kantargued that our actions should exhibit a kindofuniversalizability that is grounded in respectfor other people as autonomous rationalagents
.Mill argued that we should act so asto produce the greatest sum ofhappiness
.Solong as people are capable oftaking Kant’s orMill’s advice,how does it follow from neuro-scientific data — indeed,how could it followfrom such data — that people ought to ignoreKant’s and Mill’s recommendations in favourofAristotle’s? In other words,how does itfollow from the proposition that Aristotelianmoral thought is more natural than Kant’s orMill’s that Aristotle’s is better?Whereas I am sceptical ofattempts toderive moral principles from scientific facts,Iagree with the proponents ofnaturalizedethics that scientific facts can have profoundmoral implications,and that moral philoso-phers have paid too little attention to relevantwork in the natural sciences.My understand-ing ofthe relationship between science andnormative ethics is,however,different fromthat ofnaturalized ethicists.Casebeer andothers view science and normative ethics ascontinuous and are therefore interested innormative moral theories that resemble or are‘consilient’with theories ofmoral psychology.Their aim is to find theories ofright andwrong that in some sense match naturalhuman practice.By contrast,I view science asoffering a ‘behind the scenes’look at humanmorality.Just as a well-researched biographycan,depending on what it reveals,boost ordeflate one’s esteem for its subject,the scien-tific investigation ofhuman morality can helpus to understand human moral nature,and inso doing change our opinion ofit.
Neuroscience and normative ethics
There is a growing consensus that moral judgements are based largely on intuition —‘gut feelings’about what is right or wrong inparticular cases
.Sometimes these intuitionsconflict,both within and between individuals.Are all moral intuitions equally worthy ofour
34. Churchland, P. S.
Brain-wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy
(MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2002).35. Churchland, P. M. Towards a cognitive neurobiology ofthe moral virtues.
, 83–96 (1998).36. Wallis, J. D., Anderson, K. C. & Miller, E. K. Singleneurons in prefrontal cortex encode abstract rules.
, 953–956 (2001).37. Casebeer, W. D. & Churchland, P. S. The neuralmechanisms of moral cognition: a multiple-aspectapproach to moral judgment and decision-making.
, 169–194 (2003).38. Moreno, J. D. Neuroethics: an agenda for neuroscienceand society.
Nature Rev. Neurosci.
, 149–153 (2003).39. Cacioppo, J. T.
Foundations in Social Neuro- science
(MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2002).40. Rachels, J.
The Elements of Moral Philosophy 4th Edn
(McGraw-Hill, Columbus, 2002).41. Lapsley, D.
(West-view, Boulder, 1996).
I thank P. M. Churchland and P. S. Churchland for their closereading of the manuscript and invaluable advice about its struc-ture and content. In addition, J. Greene’s sceptical remarks wereextremely helpful. J. Moll also provided useful preprints of histeam’s work in this area.
MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Sciences:
http://cognet.mit.edu/MITECS/ limbic system | moral psychology | social cognition | theory ofmind
Online Bibliography of Cognitive Science and Ethics:
Access to this interactive links box is free online.
From neural ‘is’to moral ‘ought’:whatare the moral implications of neuroscientific moral psychology?
Many moral philosophers regard scientificresearch as irrelevant to their work becausescience deals with what is the case, whereasethics deals with what ought to be. Someethicists question this is/ought distinction,arguing that science and normative ethicsare continuous and that ethics mightsomeday be regarded as a natural socialscience. I agree with traditional ethicists thatthere is a sharp and crucial distinctionbetween the ‘is’ of science and the ‘ought’of ethics, but maintain nonetheless thatscience, and neuroscience in particular, canhave profound ethical implications byproviding us with information that will promptus to re-evaluate our moral values and ourconceptions of morality.
Many moral philosophers boast a well-cultivated indifference to research in moralpsychology.This is regrettable,but notentirely groundless
.Philosophers have longrecognized that facts concerning how peopleactually think or act do not imply facts abouthow people ought to think or act,at least notin any straightforwardway.This principle issummarized by the Humean
dictum that onecan’t derive an ‘ought’from an ‘is’.In a similarvein,moral philosophers since Moore
havetaken pains to avoid the ‘naturalistic fallacy’,the mistake ofidentifying that which isnatural with that which is right or good (or,more broadly,the mistake ofidentifyingmoral properties with natural properties).Prominent among those accused by Moore of committing this fallacy was Herbert Spencer,the father of‘social Darwinism’,who aimed toground moral and political philosophy inevolutionary principles
.Spencer coined thephrase ‘survival ofthe fittest’,giving Darwin’spurely biological notion offitness a socio-moral twist:for the good ofthe species,thegovernment ought not to interfere withnature’s tendency to let the strong dominatethe weak.Spencerian social Darwinism is long gone,but the idea that principles ofnatural sciencemight provide a foundation for normativeethics has won renewed favour in recent years.Some friends of‘naturalized ethics’argue,contra Hume and Moore,that the doctrine of the naturalistic fallacy is itselfa fallacy,andthat facts about right and wrong are,in prin-ciple at least,as amenable to scientific discov-ery as any others.Most ofthe arguments infavour ofethics as continuous with naturalscience have been rather abstract,with noattempt to support particular moral theorieson the basis ofparticular scientific research
.Casebeer’s neuroscientific defense ofAristo-telian virtue theory (this issue) is a notableexception in this regard
.A critical survey ofrecent attempts tonaturalize ethics is beyond the scope ofthisarticle.Instead I will simply state that Iam sceptical ofnaturalized ethics for the