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The Descent of Moral Sentiment

Abstracts

Jonathan Birch – In the Grip of a Norm

In Wise Choices, Apt Feelings, Allan Gibbard distinguished ‘accepting a norm’ from ‘being in the grip of a norm’. He portrayed the former as a language-dependent and uniquely human phenomenon, and the latter as a non-linguistic phenomenon present in both humans and non-human animals such as dogs. But what is it to be in the grip…

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Simon Blackurn – Feelings and Judgments

Some writers (Parfit, Nussbaum) have denied that there can be reasons for feelings, or even that feelings can themselves be reasons for intentions, other mental states, or actions. They ignore a long tradition of thinking otherwise, by philosophers including not only the Scottish sentimentalists, but Brentano and Ryle, amongst others. In my paper I shall…

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Sarah Brosnan – A Comparative Approach to Morality

Distinct among animals, humans have the ability to develop and shape systems of morality that guide social interactions.  Although humans’ capacity for morality stands alone, humans are not the only species to have developed rules or norms surrounding social decision-making, and understanding how other species negotiate these interactions provides insight into the evolution of the…

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Christine Clavien – A Novel Account of the Evolution of Moral Intuitions

Existing accounts of moral intuitions usually highlight that intuitions are quickly produced below the level of conscious inference. In this talk, I’ll further argue that there is one important identifying feature of moral intuitions: they come along with a “feeling of rightness”, that is, the conviction that one’s personal evaluation is right and should be…

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Frank Hindriks – Sentimental Rationalism

Is moral judgment based on sentiment or on reason? I argue that this question poses a false dichotomy. Sentimentalists correctly point out that emotions play a crucial role in moral judgment – a point that is incontrovertible in the light of many recent experiments. This, however, is not the whole story. Relying on evidence from…

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Annemarie Kalis – Moral Judgement and Rational Capacities

In this talk I will challenge a basic assumption underlying the contemporary psychology of moral judgement: the idea that moral judgements can be mechanistically explained. This assumption is not only held by sentimentalists such as Haidt or Nichols, who believe that the mechanisms involved are mostly affective, but also by those who argue that rational…

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Philip Kitcher – Ethics as a Human Project [videolecture]

The goal of this lecture is to extend and refine the approach to ethics I proposed in The Ethical Project.  My presentation will have three parts.  First, I shall sketch an account of the genealogy of ethical life, using ideas of Patricia Churchland, Sarah Hrdy, Michael Tomasello and Kim Sterelny to amend the story I…

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Edouard Machery – Religion and the scope of the moral domain

According to Elliot Turiel, religious affiliation does not influence the distinction between so-called “moral” and “conventional” norms. By contrast, according to Jonathan Haidt, religious affiliation results in a broadened moral domain: As he puts it, “big gods have big moralities.” This talk will present new data showing the limits of both Turiel’s and Haidt’s views….

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Sarah Mathew – Is the Cultural Boundary also the Moral Boundary? 

Human ultra-sociality is enabled by a moral psychology that makes us adhere to and enforce prosocial norms, but what is the extent and limit of the moral psychology? Different hypotheses for how cooperation evolved make vastly different predictions about who our moral concerns should extend to: communities linked by gossip and social network ties; people…

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Peter Railton – Moral Learning as a Fundamental Cognitive Capacity

Evolutionary approaches to morality often focus on the question whether known selection mechanisms would have produced inherited dispositions to behave in accord with moral principles or to internalize moral principles from the surrounding social environment.  An alternative approach would be to view moral cognition more in the manner in which we view cognition generally.  For…

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Kim Sterelny – Norms: Cooperation, Scale and Complexity 

Just about everyone who works on the evolution of social or moral norms connects the evolution of norms to the distinctive character of human cooperation. More specifically, important recent work has connected the evolution of norms to the scale of human cooperative life: this idea is developed in somewhat different ways in Michael Tomasello’s Natural…

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Matthijs van Veelen – What Forces Shaped Human Morality?

Explanations for cooperation, altruism & morality fall into three broad categories: population structure, repetition and partner choice. That leaves us with a rather diverse collection of explanations, and we would like to turn to empirical evidence to determine which of those selective pressures have been relevant in shaping human morality. All three categories have complications…

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