Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 1011–1025 | Cite as

How Neuroscience Can Vindicate Moral Intuition

  • Christopher Freiman
Imagine that an anthropologist returns from her study of a group of people and reports the following:
  • They refuse to kill one person even to avert the death of all involved—including that one person;

  • They won’t directly push someone to his death to save the lives of five others, but they will push a lever to kill him to save five others;

  • They punish transgressors because it feels right, even when they expect the punishment to cause far more harm than good—and even when the harm done by the punishment exceeds the harm done by the transgression being punished.

The anthropologist’s report might lead us to conclude that these people are at least confused, and perhaps even dangerous.

Here’s some bad news. Those people are us. Or so suggests recent research in experimental psychology and the neurosciences. This research indicates that our moral intuitions have a vaguely deontological character and they prompt us to make any number of judgments that appear arbitrary or otherwise unjustified,...


Utilitarianism Moral psychology Moral intuitions 



Thanks are due to Julia Annas, Nathan Ballantyne, Robyn Bluhm, Thomas Christiano, Gerald Gaus, Josh Gert, Brad Hooker, Dale Miller, David Schmidtz, participants at the 2008 Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, participants at the 2008 Interdisciplinary Approaches to Philosophical Issues conference at the University of South Alabama, and two anonymous refereees for this journal for their helpful comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCollege of William and MaryWilliamsburgUSA

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