Normative Moral Neuroscience: The Third Tradition of Neuroethics

Neuroethics is usually thought of as consisting of two traditions: the neuroscience of moral judgment, and the ethics of neuroscientific practice. Attempts to draw philosophical and ethical conclusions from the neuroscience of moral judgment have usually been thought of as falling into the first tradition. But this sort of work—the philosophy of the neuroscience of moral judgment—is sufficiently complex, and encounters challenges sufficiently unique, to be treated as its own, third tradition of neuroethics. This article provides a comprehensive view of the goals, methods, assumptions, and viewpoints in the third tradition of neuroethics, addresses several prominent challenges in it, and suggests guidelines for overcoming those challenges. The article is forthcoming in the Journal of the American Philosophical Association.

The Agency-Last Paradigm: Free Will as Moral Ether

People typically assume that freedom of choice is one of several factors we take into account when assigning blame and praise. But what if this idea is completely backwards? What if people typically assign blame first, and only later attribute freedom of choice in order to justify their extant judgments of moral responsibility? I adduce philosophical arguments and statistical models of new data to support this latter idea, and explore some of its implications. One of these implications, I argue, is that free will is a kind of moral ether: an intuitive fiction that was once useful in developing powerful scientific theories, but which ultimately does not exist. This article will be published in Philosophia in the near future.

Neuromoral Diversity: Individual, Gender, and Cultural Differences in the Ethical Brain

You probably knew that people's ethical views can vary depending on their personality, the culture in which they live, the societal pressures they've faced, and so on. But did you know that their biological responses to viewing moral and immoral acts can actually vary according to those same factors? In this essay, I discuss some of the ways that different people's brains process moral situations differently, and the implications this diversity in neuromoral processing can have for law, ethics, and philosophy. The article was published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience as part of their series on "Paradigm Shifts in Neuroscience."

Contemporary moral psychology and neuroscience center around a dual-process theory, according to which emotion and reason are distinct and antagonistic forces that shape moral judgment. This picture reflects, to some extent, the longstanding debate among philosophers about the roles that emotion and reason should play in moral judgment. Here, I re-examine some of the neuropsychological data and suggest that separating moral judgment processes along sentimental/rational lines requires us to develop and deploy a false dichotomy between judgment processes in the brain. This article was published in Synthese in 2018.

Adjudicating Adjudication and the Problem of Epistemic Caution

It turns out that female U.S. state trial judges assign significantly shorter sentences to diagnosed psychopaths than male judges do. But when presented with additional--and very likely irrelevant--neurogenetic testimony regarding psychopathy, male judges assign sentences just as short as their female counterparts. So, what should we do with potentially misleading neuroscientific testimony that nonetheless can help reduce the biasing effects of an overwhelmingly male judiciary? This essay was published as a Target Article in The American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience, alongside two commentaries on the data I present.

On the Exclusion and Importance of Women in Philosophy

There's been a rumor circulating in the philosophy world that undergraduate women are more likely than their male peers to have different intuitions than their mostly-male professors. Supposedly, that can help explain why so few women major in philosophy. Well, it turns out that this rumor is false and pernicious. In this article, published in 2016 in Hypatia, I demonstrate the falsity of the rumor with some of the very data first used to perpetuate it. I also explain how the underrepresentation of women in philosophy may be even more harmful--and more difficult to remedy--than many people already understand it to be.

When Phrenology Was Used in Court: Lessons in Neuroscience from the 1834 Trial of a 9-Year-Old

While preparing a lesson on 19th-century pseudoscience for a class I was teaching, I came across an interesting 180-year-old court case. I thought it would be fun to think about how that same case might be treated today, and ended up writing an essay about historical coincidences, the value of brain science, and the thin line between legitimately groundbreaking science and pseudoscientific zealotry. The essay was published in the online magazine, Slate.

Do Personality Effects Mean Philosophy Is Intrinsically Subjective?

Many philosophers like to think that their beliefs are based entirely on reason and observation, and therefore should be held by any reasonable person who's observed the same things they have. But it turns out that if you assess the personality of a professional philosopher, you can to some extent predict the views she holds. This raises doubts about the claim that philosophers operate on the basis of reason and observation alone, and therefore also about the objectivity of philosophy. The article was published in 2013 in The Journal of Consciousness Studies.

Please reload