The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘moral grammar’

Moral Grammar and Intuitive Jurisprudence – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 5, 2008

brain-cog-imageJohn Mikhail’s recently posted his forthcoming chapter, “Moral Grammar and Intuitive Jurisprudence: A Formal Model of Unconscious Moral and Legal Knowledge” (forthcoming in The Psychology of Learning and Motiation: Moral Cognition and Decision Making (D. Medin, L. Skitka, C. W. Bauman, D. Bartels, eds., 2009) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Could a computer be programmed to make moral judgments about cases of intentional harm and unreasonable risk that match those judgments people already make intuitively? If the human moral sense is an unconscious computational mechanism of some sort, as many cognitive scientists have suggested, then the answer should be yes. So too if the search for reflective equilibrium is a sound enterprise, since achieving this state of affairs requires demarcating a set of considered judgments, stating them as explanandum sentences, and formulating a set of algorithms from which they can be derived. The same is true for theories that emphasize the role of emotions or heuristics in moral cognition, since they ultimately depend on intuitive appraisals of the stimulus that accomplish essentially the same tasks. Drawing on deontic logic, action theory, moral philosophy, and the common law of crime and tort, particularly Terry’s five-variable calculus of risk, I outline a formal model of moral grammar and intuitive jurisprudence along the foregoing lines, which defines the abstract properties of the relevant mapping and demonstrates their descriptive adequacy with respect to a range of common moral intuitions, which experimental studies have suggested may be universal or nearly so. Framing effects, protected values, and implications for the neuroscience of moral intuition are also discussed.

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For related Situationist posts, see “Moral Cognitions – Abstract” and “Moral Psychology Primer.”

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Moral Cognitions – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 27, 2008

by Pulpolux !!!In light of the previous post on Moral Psychology, we decided to provide the abstract to John Mikhail’s paper, “Aspects of the Theory of Moral Cognition: Investigating Intuitive Knowledge of the Prohibition of Intentional Battery and the Principle of Double Effect” (May 2002), which is available on SSRN.

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Where do our moral intuitions come from? Are they innate? Does the brain contain a module specialized for moral judgment? Does the human genetic program contain instructions for the acquisition of a sense of justice or moral sense? Questions like these have been asked in one form or another for centuries. In this paper we take them up again, with the aim of clarifying them and developing a specific proposal for how they can be empirically investigated. The paper presents data from six trolley problem studies of over five hundred individuals, including one group of Chinese adults and one group of American children, which suggest that both adults and children ages 8-12 rely on intuitive knowledge of moral principles, including the prohibition of intentional battery and the principle of double effect, to determine the permissibility of actions that require harming one individual in order to prevent harm to others. Significantly, the knowledge in question appears to be merely tacit: when asked to explain or justify their judgments, subjects were consistently incapable of articulating the operative principles on which their judgments appear to have been based. We explain these findings with reference to an analogy to human linguistic competence. Just as normal persons are typically unaware of the principles guiding their linguistic intuitions, so too are they often unaware of the principles guiding their moral intuitions. These studies pave the way for future research by raising the possibility that specific poverty of the stimulus arguments can be formulated in the moral domain. Differences between our approach to moral cognition and those of Piaget (1932), Kohlberg (1981), and Greene et al. (2001) are also discussed.

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