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7: FEB 1. Unit Two: More moral psychology, politics, biology and philosophical moral theories!


  • Robert Sapolsky, from Behave, Chapter 13, "Morality and doing the Right Thing, Once You've Figured Out What that Is." pp. 478-483.
  • Haidt, Chapter 3, "Elephants Rule" (52-72)
  • The Trolley Problem
  • Watch this PBS Philosophy Crash course on utilitarianism. [3]
  • SW1 Assigned today: Writing due February 4th.

In-class content

  • A Second look at “Morality as a product of Evolution”
  • SW1 Assignment - Review
  • Consequentialism - Utilitarianism

Summing up Sapolsky: Morality as a product of Evolution

  • Some key claims and inferences:
  • Evolution shapes our bodies, our behaviors, and our ideas (evo-psych)
  • Cooperation and coalitions can give us a fitness advantage.
  • A problem with cooperation is to not become a sucker.
  • This is a problem we can address with values (e.g. it’s a moral problem).
  • Values are expectations of others to think, speak, feel, and act in particular ways (and sometimes to refrain from thinking, speaking, etc. in particular ways). (My def. Not in Sapolsky)
  • Morality isn’t only about cooperation. It includes a set of basic social dilemmas and existential problems that affect our ability to thrive. These are both personal and political problems. (not quite from Sapolsky)
  • Morality is a product of evolution in the sense that it is a cultural practice that helps up manage problems that can affect our fitness.

Philosophical Moral Theories: Consequentialism -- Utilitarianism

  • Brief historical intro to utilitarians: Early industrial society, "social statics" (early efforts to measure social conditions). Utilitarians were seen as reformers.
  • Eudaimonistic(about Happiness or Well-Being) vs. Non-Eudaimonistic (Duty)
  • Two views:
  • 1) Morality is fundamentally eudaimonistic "in the long run," even if it in particular proximate circumstances in does not always involve positive emotions (includes Utilitarians).
  • 2) Morality and moral responses realize disinterested values like reason and justice, that are not related to promoting happy outcomes (Kant / Duty ethics).
  • Fundamental consequentialist intuition: Most of what's important about morality can be seen in outcomes of our actions that promote happiness and human well-being. (Recall "Intentions-Acts-Consequences")
  • Basic principles of utilitarian thought:
  • Equal Happiness Principle: Everyone's happiness matters to them as much as mine does to me. Everyone's interests have equal weight. (Note this is a rational principle. Emotionally, it's false.)
  • Note on method: this is a way to universalize. Recall earlier discussion about conditions for ethical discourse. Ethics is about figuring out when we need to take a moral concern about something and, if we do, then we take on constraint (conversational): universalizability, equality of interests.
  • Principle of Utility: Act always so that you promote the greatest good for the greatest number.
  • Hedonic version: Act to promote the greatest pleasure ...
  • Classical utilitarian: greatest balance of range of qualitatively diverse pleasures and aspects of well-being.
  • Preference utilitarian version: Act to maximally fulfill our interest in acting on our preferences.
  • But what is utility? What is a preference?
  • Utility: pleasure, what is useful, happiness, well-being.
  • Is the utilitarian committed to maximizing happiness of individuals directly? A utilitarian focused on promoting utility, might still acknowledge that promoting human happiness is mostly about protecting conditions for an individual's autonomous pursuit of happiness. Consider cases: When does promoting the greater good involve letting people make their own decisions vs. managing or regulating an issue centrally?
  • Conditions for the pursuit of happiness: Order, stability, opportunity, education, health, rights, liberty.
  • Issue of protection of rights in utilitarian thought.
  • Preferences:
  • An indirect way to solve the problem of lack of agreement about goods. Let's maximize opportunities for people to express their preferences. Positive: pushing the question of the good life to the individual. Negative: High levels of individualism may reduce social trust. Lack of action on opportunities to reduce suffering.
  • Thought experiment: Returning a gun to an angry person. Is the angry person's preference one that has to count?
  • Cultural contradictions in our preferences: we prefer health, but we also "prefer" to eat the western diet. Which preference should the utilitarian focus on? Some preferences are based on bias or prejudice.
  • Need some standard of rational or considered preference. What a "reasonable person" would do. Maybe less disagreement about that than "the good". (Example: Intervening in the lives of homeless mentally ill and suffering.)

Group Discussion: Assessing Utilitarianism

  • Consider applying utilitarianism to different kinds of moral problems (from interpersonal ethics to public policy questions). Identify three situations in which you would want to use utilitarianism and three situations in which you would not.

Sapolsky, Robert. Behave. C 13, "Morality and Doing the Right Thing" (479-483)

  • Is moral decision making mostly reasoning or intuition?
  • The case for primacy of cognition:
  • Lots of examples of reason based rules in law and social institutions. This kind of reasoning activates the dlPFC and TPJ (temporoparietal junction) - theory of mind tasks. Suppress TPJ and less concern about intentions! Yikes.
  • Theory of Mind tasks are those involving perceiving and inferring intentions. Central to social life!
  • Moral reasoning is skewed toward the cognitive in some predictable ways: doing harm worse than allowing it. commission vs. omission. tend to look for malevolent causes more than benevolent.
  • The case for primacy of intuition:
  • Problem with moral reasoning (cognitive) view: lots of evidence for intuition and emotion. We often make moral judgements automatically.
  • Reviews Haidt's Social Intuitionism: "moral thinking is for social doing". The reasoning is mostly to show others what we're doing (and to "advertise" it). "virtue signaling"
  • Moral decisions activate the vmPFC, orbitalfrontal cortex, insular cortex, and anterior cingulate. Pity and indignation activate different structures. Sexual transgressions activate the insula.
  • In moral quandries, activation of amygdala, vmPFC, and insula typically precede dlPfc activation.
  • people with damage to the vmPFC will sacrifice one relative to save five strangers, something control subjects just don't do!

Haidt, Chapter 3, "Elephants Rule"

  • Personal Anecdote from Haidt's married life: your inner lawyer (automatic speech)
  • Priming studies: "take" "often" -- working with neutral stories also
  • Research supporting "intuitions come first"
  • 1. Brains evaluate instantly and constantly
  • Zajonc on "affective primacy"- small flashes of pos/neg feeling from ongoing cs stimuli - even applies to made up language "mere exposure effect" tendency to have more positive responses to something just be repeat exposure.
  • 2. Social and Political judgements are especially intuitive
  • Affective Priming - flashing word pairs with dissonance: "flower - happiness" vs. "hate - sunshine"
  • Implicit Association Test Project Implicit
  • Flashing word pairs with political terms causes dissonance. measurable delay in response when, say, conservatives read "Clinton" and "sunshine". Dissonance is pain.
  • Todorov's work extending "attractiveness" advantage to snap judgements. "Competency" judgments of political candidates correct 2/3 of time. note:
  • Judgements of competence. note speed of judgement .1 of a second.(59)
  • 3. Bodies guide judgements
  • Fart Spray exaggerates moral judgements (!)
  • Zhong: hand washing before and after moral judgements.
  • Helzer and Pizarro: standing near a sanitizer strengthens conservatism.
  • 4. Psychopaths: reason but don't feel
  • Transcript from Robert Hare research
  • 5. Babies: feel but don't reason
  • 6. Affective reactions in the brain Belief Change
  • Josh Greene's fMRI studies of Trolley type problems. The Trolley Problem
  • Pause on Joshua Greene quote, p. 67
  • When does the elephant listen to reason?
  • Paxton and Greene experiments with incest story using versions with good and bad arguments. Harvard students showed no difference, though some when allowed delayed response.
  • Friends... The Importance of Friends...Friends are really important...

SW1 Intuitions Come First (600 words)

  • Stage 1: Please write an 600 word maximum answer to the following question by Friday, February 4th, 2022 11:59pm.
  • Topic: How does evolution cause social behaviors in animals and in species like us? Is there good reason to think that some moral social behaviors or morality itself is a product of evolution? Present Sapolsky's answers to these questions in a detailed and well organized short essay.
  • Advice about collaboration: Collaboration is part of the academic process and the intellectual world that college courses are based on, so it is important to me that you have the possibility to collaborate. I encourage you to collaborate with other students, but only up to the point of sharing ideas, references to class notes, and your own notes, verbally. Collaboration is also a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs in the class. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to NOT share text of draft answers or outlines of your answer. Keep it verbal. Generate your own examples.
  • Prepare your answer and submit it in the following way. You will lose points if you do not follow these instructions:
  1. To assure anonymity, you must remove your name from the the "author name" that you may have provided when you set up your word processing application. For instructions on removing your name from an Word or Google document, [click here].
  2. Format your answer in double spaced text, in a typical 12 point font, and using normal margins. Do not add spaces between paragraphs and indent the first line of each paragraph.
  3. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student ID number in the file. Always put a word count in the file. Save your file for this assignment with the name: EvolvedMorality.
  4. To turn in your assignment, log into courses.alfino.org, click on the "1 - Points" dropbox.
  5. If you cannot meet a deadline, you must email me about your circumstances (unless you are having an emergency) before the deadline or you will lose points.
  • Stage 2: Please evaluate four student answers and provide brief comments and a score. Review the Assignment Rubric for this exercise. We will be using the Flow and Content areas of the rubric for this assignment. Complete your evaluations and scoring by Thursday February 10th, 2022 11:59pm.
  • To determine the papers you need to peer review, open the file called "#Key.xls" in the shared folder. You will see a worksheet with saint names in alphabetically order, along with animal names. Find your saint name and review the next four (4) animals' work below your animal name. If you get to the bottom of the list before reaching 4 animals, go to the top of the list and continue.
  • Use this Google Form to evaluate four peer papers. Submit the form once for each review.
  • Some papers may arrive late. If you are in line to review a missing paper, allow a day or two for it to show up. If it does not show up, go back to the key and review the next animal's paper, continuing until you get four reviews. Do not review more than four papers.
  • Stage 3: I will grade and briefly comment on your writing using the peer scores as an initial ranking. Assuming the process works normally, most of my scores probably be within 1-2 points of the peer scores, plus or minus.
  • Stage 4: Back-evaluation: After you receive your peer comments and my evaluation, take a few minutes to fill out this quick "back evaluation" rating form: [4]. Fill out the form for each reviewer, but not Alfino. You must do the back evaluation to receive credit for the whole assignment. Failing to give back-evaluations unfairly affects other classmates.
  • Back evaluations are due Thursday, February 17th, 2022, 11:59pm.