Minutes: Social Intuitionism and Normative Ethics

When: Tuesday October 12, 8PM
Where: Levering Great Hall (directly behind Pura Vida cafe)

Discussion led/moderated by graduate student John Waterman

Social Intuitionism, Moral Psychology and Normative Ethics

Social Intuitionism: pose a radical challenge to normative ethics. It’s claim is that all normative ethics is an example of psychological confounding.

Normative ethics: study of what is right and what to do about it

Moral psychology: study of way we think what is right and wrong

Psychological confoundment: rationalization… you do something and then after the fact you come up with an explanation for hwy you did it.

Social intuitionism: all normative ethics are an after the fact rationalization

1.) study by Richard Nizbit: brought a bunch of subjects into a room and hung a bunch of stockings. He asked people to pick one and then ask why they picked it. Often, they would say because it looked nicer, newer, shinier… but it turns out they are all identical. 80% of right handed people picked the one on the right and vice versa for left handed people… even though they came up with all types of reasons or explanations for what they came up

2.) People named Georgia and Virginia not named in the states… there is a statistically better chance that people named this will move there… they never say it is because of their name and they like it… people are not citing a rational reason for what they are doing…

show that confounding that it is uncommon and idiosyncratic… why social intuitionism is different is that it claims normative ethics is a systematic and common type of psychological confoundment…

some of the prominent proponents Joshua Green… Jonathon Haidt…

Jonathon Haidt: incest example… brother and sister like it, no one gets pregnant, etc… he asks people if its ok and they then rationalize and tell him all those things that were not a factor… there was no psychological damage… people are coming up with justifications with something they have already come up with

fMRI research:
classic trolley storey
1.) you can either pull a lever to kill 1 worker instead of 4 (80% of people say pull the lever)
2.) instead you are on a bridge over the track. If you push the really fat guy onto the track, you will kill him and save the other four. (most people think it is wrong to push the guy in the path of the trolley)

Two relevant things:
People don’t cite the fact that they have an emotional reaction in the pushing scenario.
More broadly, these unconscious emotional intuitions are what drives most of our moral decision making…

Challenge:
1.) normative ethics is just getting the facts wrong, it is not talking about our emotional reactions… normative ethics has to refer to how we make our decisions at all
2.) deeper challenge: the way that normative ethics is pursued is wrong… people are thinking about these thought experiments, appealing to these intuitions, then coming up with theories to explain them…

Four responses
1.) concede: ethics needs to be done in psychology
2.) dispute the evidence… no these experiments don’t show what you think they show
3.) concessive: yes we can do normative ethics but we have to take these things into account
4.) pure rebuttle: normative ethics doesn’t have to do anything with empirical… this is just an example of the naturalistic fallacy, and furthermore… we don’t get mathematics form what people put on math tests…

Interlocutor A: just because it can be shown that someone has an emotional response to an ethical problem, it doesn’t mean that it is the end of the chain… just because it is emotional it does not mean that there isn’t some ethical theory that created those feelings in the first place

Interlocutor A: all the morally relevant details are supposed to be the same between the cases… but they might not be

Interlocutor B: there is this famous case of a guy who was a pedophile.. turns out the guy had a tumor that pressed on a part of the brain concerned with self-monitoring… he was a perfectly nice guy… and then it turns out the tumor was back and then he didn’t have these urges… the tumor was inhibiting his ability to determine what was right and wrong…
2nd case: this Dutch family had this one genetic defect… half the guys in this family when they have this one difference, Y-linked recessive gene, they don’t metabolize seratonin and it makes them aggressive assholes… how relevant are these psychological facts to their responsibility…

Defense of Kant: Kant says that even if you are the last person on earth, there is something that is right and wrong. Further, moral facts, facts about right and wrong, are just like mathematical facts… you don’t have to look at people’s psychology, what they do, this is completely irrelevant to moral truth.
We have different kinds of statements. There are imperatives: it is just a command. Interrogatives: questions. Also, not the kind of thing that is true or false. Then, there are declarative systems: a fish is wet… and those types of things are true or false. Moral statements: ‘killing is wrong’ are hard to classify in this way… it is both a command and a declaration… something that can be true but also has a grip on you… but, unlike a command it can take a truth value… he wants to ground it in the same way pure mathematics is done… he wants to ground it in reason… it is a fact that you discover with reason… reason is a kind of thing that is both normative, has a grip on you, but it also deals with the true or the false…
It is a place where you think about normative theory… they are also the kind of things that we can discover to be true/false…
Categorical Imperative: did they just change the subject?

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