The Half-Life of the Moral Dilemma Task: A Case Study in Experimental (Neuro-) Philosophy

  • Stephan SchleimEmail author
Reference work entry


The pioneering neuroscience of moral decisions studies implementing the moral dilemma task by Joshua Greene and colleagues stimulated interdisciplinary experimental research on moral cognition as well as a philosophical debate on its normative implications. This chapter emphasizes the influence these studies had and continue to have on many academic disciplines. It continues with a detailed analysis of both the traditional philosophical puzzle and the recent psychological puzzle that Greene and colleagues wanted to solve, with a special focus on the conceptual and experimental relation between the two puzzles. The analysis follows the fundamental logics essential for psychological experimentation that is also employed within cognitive neuroscience: the logics of defining a psychological construct, operationalizing it, formulating a hypothesis, applying it in an experiment, collecting data, and eventually interpreting them. In this manner, this chapter exemplifies an analytical structure that can be applied to many other examples in experimental (neuro-) philosophy, here coined “The Experimental Neurophilosophy Cycle.” This chapter eventually discusses how the empirical findings and their interpretation, respectively, are related back to the original philosophical and psychological puzzles and concludes with conceptual as well as experimental suggestions for further research on moral cognition.


Moral Judgment Natural Kind Cognitive Neuroscience Inferior Parietal Lobe Moral Dilemma 
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.



The author would like to thank Professors Birnbacher, Gethmann, Hübner, Kahane, Kleingeld, Metzinger, Sellmaier, Stephan, and Walter as well as the Munich Neurophilosophy Group for the possibility to present earlier drafts of this work at their conferences or colloquia. The author would also like to acknowledge the helpful comments of the peer reviewers for clarifying some issues of this chapter. This paper was supported by the grant “Intuition and Emotion in Moral Decision-Making: Empirical Research and Normative Implications” by the Volkswagen Foundation, Az. II/85 063, and a generous travel grant by the Barbara Wengeler Foundation, Munich.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Theory and History of Psychology, Heymans Institute for Psychological ResearchUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Neurophilosophy, Munich Center for NeurosciencesLudwig-Maximilians-University MunichMunichGermany

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