Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Neuroethics

pp 185-199


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

  • Stephan SchleimAffiliated withFaculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Theory and History of Psychology, Heymans Institute for Psychological Research, University of GroningenNeurophilosophy, Munich Center for Neurosciences, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich Email author 


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.