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  • Ethics & Cognition. Wednesday, 12 September 2007. 4-5pm. 618 Crawford Hall. Presenters include Sara Waller, Anthony Jack, William Deal, and Per Aage Brandt.
  • Abstracts:
  • William Deal. "Ethics in Mind"
    Traditions of moral philosophy and religious ethics have generally failed to incorporate insights derived from research on cognition. Such research, inter alia, challenges moral perspectives founded on the assumption that rationality is key to moral knowledge, as well as bedrock moral concepts like free will, rights, and moral agency. How, then, to negotiate comparative ethics in light of the cogency of recent cognitive scientific critiques of moral philosophy? Current scholarship on morality and cognition has been written primarily by cognitive scientists, while moral philosophers remain on the periphery. I suspect that human ethical sensibilities are located at intersections between the cultural and the biological—between the ought and the is. My presentation will suggest how moral philosophy and comparative ethics might further illuminate insights into the nexus between ethics and cognition advanced by cognitive science.
  • Per Aage Brandt. "Evil, Unjust, Irresponsible – Three Ethical Values in the Light of Cognitive Semantics." Negative values are regularly clearer than their positive counterparts; it is easier to exemplify the negative, since it has a more salient narrative structure; the positive counterparts are often their simple dual, inverse, or neutral versions. The immediate cognitive task is to isolate and study the schematic-conceptual structure of values and value paradigms; second: to identify other cognitive, possibly conceptual structures, to which they may be evolutionarily or developmentally connected, and third: to invstigate the neural correlates of such clusters. Here, I will only present an outline of the diagrams that may be primary models of each of the three values above.
  • Sara Waller. "Neuroethics and the Naturalization of Moral Judgments." Neuroethics is a field that asks questions about the power of new discoveries in the neurosciences to change human lives. As such, it is a field that investigates our moral experiences. By what standard do we determine that we measure moral experience well, neatly, and unequivocally? Experiments purporting to measure human moral responses presuppose that we have a well-honed definition of ‘moral response’. I will review recent studies in an attempt to coalesce a workable notion of ‘moral response’ for discussion. I will discuss the potentially problematic nature of the divide between subjective worlds and objective measures, and examine the strengths and weaknesses possible bridges (shared venues of information gathering, such as language) across the divide. The talk will reveal our philosophical standards for creating standard empirical measures of human consciousness, rationality, and response to moral quandaries.
  • Anthony Jack. "Moral concern and consciousness." A common thought about the link between morality and consciousness runs as follows: We should do our best to determine the biological basis of consciousness, so that we can be sure that we act responsibly towards all conscious entities. I want to suggest an alternative, and somewhat subversive, point of view: Perhaps there is no biological basis of (phenomenal) consciousness. Perhaps, instead, the only thing that determines whether or not we are willing to label a creature as (phenomenally) conscious is whether or not we are willing to treat it as belonging in our sphere of moral concern.
    In putting forward this radical proposal, I hope to point to some interesting potential connections between social psychology, social cognitive neuroscience, consciousness studies and moral thinking. Furthermore, it appears that some simple empirical methods may allow us to further explore these issues.