The Predictable Irrationality of Righteous Minds, and the Work of Ethicists

Jennifer spends lots of time with dead things, dead humans actually. She works in a pathology lab. One night, she is asked to incinerate a fresh human cadaver, and she is struck that it would be a waste to throw away perfectly good meat. So, even though she is against killing and is a vegetarian for moral reasons, she cuts a chunk of flesh off the cadaver, takes it home, and has it for dinner.
Got a problem with that? Almost everyone does. But the vast majority of people cannot explain why, at least not to the level that would earn a B-plus in a freshman philosophy seminar. Instead, as Jonathan Haidt explains in The Righteous Mind, it is often our moral intuitions that come first, rapidly or even automatically, with ethical reasoning coming later.
Haidt’s book is one of many that have come out in recent years highlighting the relevance of psychology (and its close cousin, neuroscience) for understanding human morality. As a behavioral scientist, I have devoured many of these books. I am fascinated by human nature and love trying to understand why all of us behave and think the way we do. But as a physician ethicist, I often find myself reading these books with a parallel agenda: not just to understand human nature, but also to see whether this line of research has relevance for my work as an ethicist. My bottom line: Understanding moral psychology ought to be a required component of ethics training, not because the science will help us to differentiate between right and wrong… (Read more here)

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