Emotions, Experiments and the Moral Brain. The Failure of Moral Cognition Arguments Against Moral Sentimentalism

Lasse T. Bergmann


Abstract: Moral cognition research has in part been taken to be a problem for moral sentimentalists, who claim that emotions are sensitive to moral information. In particular, Joshua Greene can be understood to provide an argument against moral sentimentalism on the basis of neuropsychological evidence. In his argument he claims that emotions are an unreliable source of moral insight. However, the argument boils down to circular claims: (1) Rationalistic factors are assumed to be the only morally relevant factors; (2) Emotions are not sensitive to these factors; (3) Thus, Moral Sentimentalism is false, because only rationalistic factors are justified. While this circularity makes so-called sourcing-arguments fallacious if applied against moral sentimentalism, moral cognition research has much to contribute. Indeed, moral cognition research will be instrumental for clarifying the sentimentalist position, shedding light on the mental mechanics underlying emotional moral processing. After all, evidence from moral cognition points to substantial involvement of affective processes in human moral cognizing and their embodied nature; thus, challenging long held beliefs about morality.

Keywords: Moral Cognition; Moral Sentimentalism; Emotions; Embodied Cognition; Moral Brain

Emozioni, Esperimenti e il cervello morale. L’errore degli argomenti basati sulla cognizione morale contro il sentimentalismo morale

Riassunto: Si è spesso ritenuto che la ricerca nell’ambito della cognizione morale costituisse, almeno in parte, un problema per il sentimentalismo morale, il quale sostiene che le emozioni sono sensibili all’informazione morale. In particolare, si può pensare che Joshua Greene abbia portato un argomento contro il sentimentalismo morale basato su evidenza neuropsicologica. Secondo il suo argomento le emozioni non costituiscono una fonte affidabile di comprensione morale. E tuttavia questo argomento fa leva su una circolarità: (1) gli unici fattori qualificati come moralmente rilevanti sono quelli razionali; (2) le emozioni non sono sensibili a questi fattori; (3) pertanto, considerato che solo i fattori razionali sono giustificati, il sentimentalismo morale è falso. Tale circolarità rende fallaci i cosiddetti argomenti sorgente, laddove questi siano applicati al sentimentalismo morale. Al contempo, la ricerca sulla cognizione morale ha molto da dire su questo argomento perché può contribuire a chiarire la posizione sentimentalista, gettando luce sulla meccanica mentale sottostante i processi morali che fanno leva su emozioni. Anzi questa prospettiva di ricerca evidenzia che i processi di carattere affettivo sono coinvolti in maniera sostanziale nella cognizione morale umana e hanno una natura incarnata; in questo modo essa mette in discussione convinzioni di vecchia data sulla morale.

Parole chiave: Cognizione morale; Sentimentalismo morale; Emozioni; Cognizione incarnata; Cervello morale

Parole chiave

Moral Cognition; Moral Sentimentalism; Emotions; Embodied Cognition; Moral Brain

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.4453/rifp.2019.0002

Copyright (c) 2019 Lasse T. Bergmann

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