SEP 21

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7: SEP 21. 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]

In-class content

  • Consequentialism - Utilitarianism

Philosophical Moral Theories: Consequentialism -- Utilitarianism

  • Brief historical intro to utilitarians: Early industrial society, "social static" (early efforts to measure social conditions). Utilitarians were seen as reformers.
  • Eudaimonistic vs. Non-Eudaimonistic (Duty)
  • Two views:
  • 1) Morality is fundamentally eudaimonistic "in the longrun" 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.)

Small Group: 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, September 24, 2021 11:59pm.
  • Topic: Jonathan Haidt claims that the first principle of moral psychology is, "Intuitions Come First, Reasoning Second". Drawing only on the first three chapters of Haidt, but also Sapolsky 479-483, explain the meaning of this principle and how it is supported with research (about 400 words). How should we think about the relationship between intuition and reason in doing ethics? (about 200 words).
  • Advice about collaboration: 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 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. It's a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs. 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:
  1. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student id number in the file. Put a word count in the file.
  2. In Word, check "File-->Info-->Inspect Document-->Inspect. You will see an option to delete author information if it is found.
  3. Format your answer in double spaced text in a 12 point font, using normal margins.
  4. Save the file in the ".docx" file format using the file name "IntuitionReason".
  5. Log in to Upload your file to the Points dropbox.
  • 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 Tuesday, September 28, 2021 11:59pm.
  • To determine the papers you need to peer review, I will send you a key with saint names in alphabetically order, along with animal names. You will find your saint name and review the next four (4) animals' work.
  • 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 1-2 animals' papers, enough to get to four reviews. This assures that you will get enough "back evaluations" of your work to get a good average for your peer review credit.
  • Stage 3: I will grade and briefly comment on your writing using the peer scores as an initial ranking. Assuming the process works normally, my scores probably be within 1-2 points of the peer scores. Up to 14 points.
  • 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. Up to 10 points, in Points.
  • Back evaluations are due October 5, 2021, 11:59pm.