I'd like to thank Adam Kolber for inviting me to guest-post this month. It has been a lot of fun sharing my work. I would like to devote this, my final guest-post, by giving a brief preview of where I hope to take my research in neuroethics in the future.
I wrote in an earlier guest-post that my primary interest in neuroethics concerns disagreement over premises in moral and political philosophy. Given that arguments and theories in moral and political philosophy are necessarily based on premises, the question arises of what to do when people fundamentally disagree over premises (as often seems to be the case). In the same post, I suggested that there may be good reasons -- from an epistemological perspective -- to privilege premises in moral and political philosophy that morally better people (i.e. "better moral perceivers") find attractive over premises that morally worse people find attractive. I noted that there is not only a long history of thought that some people are "better moral perceivers" than others, but also that a great deal of mainstream moral and political philosophy is predicated on this very idea. We do not ordinarily seek to justify moral or political premises to psychopaths, Nazis, or immoralists. We recognize them to be morally corrupt, and to find morally corrupt premises attractive because they are corrupt. Finally, I suggested that empirical, neuro-psycho-behaviorial science may be able to tell us which people among us have the "best moral sense", and by extension, whose premises we should trust the most in moral and political argument.
I defend this probject in detail in my forthcoming paper, "Groundwork for a New Moral Epistemology." Although I won't summarize the entire paper here (it comes out in the September issue of Klesis), the basic thrust of the paper is this: that despite the obvious worry that "good moral perception" and "bad moral perception" cannot be operationalized or measured in any non-question-begging way, there are nearly-universally accepted grounds for who among us count as good and bad moral perceivers. People who see little wrong with lying, cheating, or stealing, for instance, and who actually engage in these behaviors are, by all accounts, bad moral perceivers. Thus, just as we would not aim to base moral and political theories on premises that psychopaths, immoralists, or Nazis find attractive, nor should we base moral or political theories on premises that these bad moral perceivers find attractive. Second, I argue that recent results in empirical psychology suggest that people who find particular premises attractive in some mainstream moral and political debates may, indeed, be bad moral perceivers in precisely these respects, displaying moral biases and behaviors recognized to be morally bad by all sides of the relevant debates. Although I recognize that these results are preliminary, I argue that it follows according to standard epistemological norms in moral and political philosophy, that there may indeed be good empirically-based reasons to favor some premises, arguments, and theories over others.
Whether the research program will ultimately pan out is, I recognize, an open question. Still, I contend, it is a provocative, promising program worthy of a great deal of further investigation. For, if it does pan out -- as again, I contend initial findings suggest it might -- the result, an empirically-based moral epistemology, could accomplish something of a great deal of importance: namely, provide solid empirical grounds for favoring some arguments and premises over others. As G.E.M. Anscombe once wrote in her famous article "Modern Moral Philosophy" (1958),
[I]t is not profitable for us at present to do moral philosophy…until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology, in which we are conspicuously lacking.
My point is essentially the same, and my research program aims to do precisely what Anscombe suggests: bring philosophical psychology to bear on moral and political theorizing.