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Pragmatism and the Contribution of Neuroscience to Ethics

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Part of the New Directions in Philosophy and Cognitive Science book series (NDPCS)

Abstract

There have been several claims that neuroscience will inform, and even transform, morality and, more precisely, ethics as a discipline. In this chapter, I first briefly review such claims and underscore how they are often supported by a positivist (or strong naturalistic) epistemology.1 I argue that this epistemology is at odds with the evolution of practical ethics and its integration of empirical research, as exemplified in the field of bioethics and the sub-field of neuroethics. One likely explanation for these prevailing positivist claims is that interpretations of neuroscientific knowledge are founded on a ubiquitous belief in the epistemic supremacy of neuroscientific explanations and their ability to provide ‘foundations’ for ethics. Such positivist claims, however, have triggered a strong backlash by raising assertions against the relevance of neuroscience in ethics. Taking a middle-ground perspective, I posit that a critical assessment of the contribution of neuroscience to ethics should not necessarily lead to a flat-out rejection of the potential for neuroscience to make important contributions to ethics, that is, anti-naturalism. One caveat is that neuroscience’s role in ethics may need to be situated within a comprehensive framework that underscores the role of interdisciplinary and empirical research as well as the ways evidence informs practical judgment in ethics. Thus, the second part of this chapter is dedicated to exploring a moderate form of naturalism inspired by the thinking of American philosopher John Dewey, in particular his views on the role and nature of evidence in ethics.

Keywords

  • Empirical Knowledge
  • Deliberative Process
  • Moral Deliberation
  • Wide Reflective Equilibrium
  • Practical Judgment

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. Eric Racine, ‘Which Naturalism for Bioethics? A Defense of Moderate (Pragmatic) Naturalism’, Bioethics 22 (2008): 92–100.

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© 2014 Eric Racine

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Racine, E. (2014). Pragmatism and the Contribution of Neuroscience to Ethics. In: Solymosi, T., Shook, J.R. (eds) Neuroscience, Neurophilosophy and Pragmatism. New Directions in Philosophy and Cognitive Science. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137376077_11

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