Somewhat of a repitition of what I have posted before, but worth reading. PDF attached, or original link here, and brief excerpt below. - Dallas

How (and where) does moral judgment work?


Moral psychology has long focused on reasoning, but recent evidence suggests that moral judgment is more a matter of emotion and affective intuition than deliberate reasoning. Here we discuss recent findings in psychology and cognitive neuroscience, including several studies that specifically investigate moral judgment. These findings indicate the importance of affect, although they allow that reasoning can play a restricted but significant role in moral judgment. They also point towards a preliminary account of the functional neuroanatomy of moral judgment, according to which many brain areas make important contributions to moral judgment although none is devoted specifically to it.

Why do we care so strongly about what other people do, even when their actions won’t affect us? And how do we decide that someone else has done something wrong? These questions are at the heart of moral psychology, and psychologists’answers to these questions have changed with intellectual fashion. Historically, psychologists have disagreed about whether moral judgments are primarily products of emotional and non-rational processes (such as Freudian internalization or behaviorist reinforcement) or of reasoning and ‘higher’ cognition (as in Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s post-conventional reasoning). Recently, however, findings from several areas of cognitive neuroscience have begun to converge on an answer: emotions and reasoning both matter, but automatic emotional processes tend to dominate.

Trends in moral psychology

During the cognitive revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, behaviorist and Freudian theories gave way to mental models and information processing as the preferred framework in psychology. In the moral domain, Lawrence Kohlberg was a part of this revolution. He built on the earlier work of Jean Piaget [1] to develop a six-stage model of the development of moral reasoning [2].  According to Kohlberg, moral growth is driven not by simple brain maturation but rather by experience in ‘role taking’, or looking at a problem from multiple perspectives. Role taking improves moral reasoning, and moral reasoning, Kohlberg thought, drives moral judgment.

But as the cognitive revolution matured in the 1980s, many researchers began calling for a complementary ‘affective revolution’. Kohlberg’s focus on moral reasoning seemed to ignore the importance of moral emotions. At the same time, new findings in evolutionary psychology [3,4] and primatology [5] began to point to the origins of human morality in a set of emotions (linked to expanding cognitive abilities) that make individuals care about the welfare of others (e.g. kin altruism, including feelings of sympathy), and about cooperation, cheating, and norm-following (e.g. reciprocal altruism, including feelings of shame, gratitude and vengeance).

Tags: Jonathan Haidt, Joshua Greene, cognition, evolution, judgment, morality, morals, neuroscience

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Replies to This Discussion

Much appreciated, as both have some interesting things to say about our moral intuitions. It's worth looking through Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory for one way of understanding how people can have so a diverse range of moral reactions link to Moral Foundations home page Alex
Thanks Alex. I got this article off the Edge site. Lots of good info there I'm gonna have to work my way through.


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