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The State of the Art in Moral Psychology

The Murphy Institute hosts the Moral Psychology Research Group

Ron Mallon
Ron Mallon

Members of the Moral Psychology Research Group shared the results of their research with the Tulane community on November 7 at Rogers Chapel. The researchers challenged the audience to consider how neuroscience and psychology shed light on some of philosophy’s most enduring questions.

Fiery Cushman, who directs the Moral Psychology Research Lab at Harvard University, demonstrated that we often base our moral judgments on instinctive aversion to harmful actions, rather than the outcomes of these actions. For instance, participants in one of Professor Cushman’s experiments experienced significant physical distress when asked to strike a lifelike baby doll against a table, even though they knew that they were not, in fact, harming a baby.

Dartmouth College neuroscientist and philosopher Adina Roskies argued that research advances in neuroscience, such as deep brain stimulation, do not undermine free will, and demonstrated this with dramatic footage of a Parkison’s patient who was able to control his tremors by activating his own surgically implanted brain simulator. Ron Mallon, Director of Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program at Washington University in St. Louis, evaluated recent work on social constructivism, human nature, and human behavior. Finally, University of Arizona’s Shaun Nichols revealed the preliminary findings of his study on how conceptions of the mutable self relate to fear of death and belief in the afterlife.

Murphy Institute faculty member and Associate Professor of Philosophy David Shoemaker hosted the event.

Founded by a group of philosophers and cognitive scientists in April 2003, the Moral Psychology Research Group fosters collaborative interdisciplinary research on human mentation and morality. Their collaboratively authored volume, The Moral Psychology Handbook, appeared with Oxford University Press in June 2010.

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