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The Surprising Science of Ethics. Scott Truelove Austin Energy Organization Development. In ethics the challenge is aimed at a method that has been widely used by philosophers since antiquity

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the surprising science of ethics
The Surprising Science of Ethics
  • Scott Truelove
  • Austin Energy Organization Development
slide16
In ethics the challenge is aimed at a method that has been widely used by philosophers since antiquity

The method uses the spontaneous judgments about thought experiments as evidence in arguments about ethics

These judgments are often called “ethical intuitions”

slide17
In a typical episode, a philosopher will describe a situation and look for philosophically interesting aspects such as:

Is the action described morally wrong?

slide18
When things go well, both the philosopher and his audience will agree that the answer is intuitively obvious…

…and that will be taken to be evidence for or against some philosophical thesis.

slide19
Well said, Cephalus, I replied: but as concerning justice, what is it? – to speak the truth and to pay your debts – no more than this? And even to this are there not exceptions? Suppose a friend when in his right mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to given them back to him? No one would say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so, any more than they would say that I ought always to speak the truth to one who is in his condition.

You are quite right, he replied.

But then, I said, speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a correct definition of justice.

Quite correct, Socrates.

slide20
Well said, Cephalus, I replied: but as concerning justice, what is it? – to speak the truth and to pay your debts – no more than this? And even to this are there not exceptions? Suppose a friend when in his right mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to given them back to him? No one would say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so, any more than they would say that I ought always to speak the truth to one who is in his condition.

You are quite right, he replied.

But then, I said, speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a correct definition of justice.

Quite correct, Socrates.

the thought experiment

slide21
Well said, Cephalus, I replied: but as concerning justice, what is it? – to speak the truth and to pay your debts – no more than this? And even to this are there not exceptions? Suppose a friend when in his right mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to given them back to him? No one would say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so, any more than they would say that I ought always to speak the truth to one who is in his condition.

You are quite right, he replied.

But then, I said, speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a correct definition of justice.

Quite correct, Socrates.

the intuitions

slide22
Well said, Cephalus, I replied: but as concerning justice, what is it? – to speak the truth and to pay your debts – no more than this? And even to this are there not exceptions? Suppose a friend when in his right mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to given them back to him? No one would say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so, any more than they would say that I ought always to speak the truth to one who is in his condition.

You are quite right, he replied.

But then, I said, speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a correct definition of justice.

Quite correct, Socrates.

the conclusion

slide24
Imagine the U.S. is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian Flu which will kill 600 people if we do nothing.
slide25
If program A is adopted, 200 people are saved.

If program B is adopted, there is a 1/3 chance of saving 600 and a 2/3 chance of saving nobody.

slide26
If program A is adopted , 200 are saved.

If program B is adopted, there is a 1/3 chance of saving 600 and a 2/3 chance of saving nobody.

slide27
If program A is adopted , 200 are saved.

If program B is adopted, there is a 1/3 chance of saving 600 and a 2/3 chance of saving nobody.

If program C is adopted, 400 people die.

If program D is adopted, there is a 1/3 chance that nobody dies and a 2/3 chance that 600 will die.

slide28
If program A is adopted , 200 are saved.

If program B is adopted, there is a 1/3 chance of saving 600 and a 2/3 chance of saving nobody.

If program C is adopted, 400 people die.

If program D is adopted, there is a 1/3 chance that nobody dies and a 2/3 chance that 600 will die.

slide29
If program A is adopted , 200 are saved.

If program B is adopted, there is a 1/3 chance that 600 are saved and a 2/3 probability of saving nobody.

If program C is adopted, 400 people die.

If program D is adopted, there is a 1/3 chance that nobody dies and a 2/3 chance that 600 will die.

slide32

Personal vs. Impersonal Moral Judgment

Medial Frontal Cortex

PosteriorCingulate/Precuneus

Superior Temporal Sulcus

Dorsolateral

PrefrontalCortex(PFC)

Emotion/Social

Cognition Areas

“Cognitive” Areas

(Bilateral)

Inferior Parietal Lobe

(Bilateral; Not shown)

Brain Activity

% change MR signal

Non-moral

Dilemmas

Greene et al., Science, 2001

Impersonal Moral

Dilemmas

Personal MoralDilemmas

slide33
Lingering sense of unease about our moral intuitions since they are often profoundly influenced by things seem morally irrelevant.

Look a bit differently about advice that relies or appeals to our moral intuitions.