science on ethics

Well, the scientists have already solved the Kant/Hume divide in ethics – at least they’ve made an honorable start. Comparing people with and without certain types of brain damage, Marc Hauser and others have found that a certain part of the brain controls emotions that in turn control the sort of empathy that moderates utilitarian thinking.

These results suggest that emotions play a crucial role in moral decisions involving personal contact – but not in moral judgments involving distant, indirect impacts on other people. “What’s beautiful to me is how subtly different the situations are,” says Marc Hauser at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, one of the researchers involved.

The finding that some moral judgments involve emotions while others do not supports the supposedly diametrically opposed thinking of philosophers Immanuel Kant and David Hume.

“It means both Kant and Hume are right. Philosophers will have a fit because they like to choose sides,” says Frans de Waal at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, US. Hume believed that people could be motivated to make proper moral decisions based on their sympathy for others. Kant, meanwhile, warned that moral judgments might be corrupted by emotions.

It is hight time philosophers gave up on the specifics of ethical theories and started finding a higher perch from which to do their thinking.


3 Comments to “science on ethics”

  1. Perhaps the brain damage caused by alzheimers in Reagan, and alcohol abuse in Bush explain their indifference to the widespread suffering their policies have caused.

    Recent controlled studies in brain research have also shown that those who label themeselves “conservative” show less activity in the part of the brain responsible for empathy.

    There must be balance between macro and micro views.

  2. now all we need is a pill …

  3. Yes! perhaps B- vitamin pills… which help maintain healthy nervous systems…

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