Know Thyself (Kantian Style)

Owen Ware’s essay on the problem of self-knowledge in Kant can be found online here on his page. Here’s an abstract:

Kant is well known for claiming that we can never really know our true moral disposition. He is less well known for claiming that the injunction “Know Yourself” is the basis of all self-regarding duties. Taken together, these two claims seem contradictory. My aim in this paper is to show how they can be reconciled. I first address the question of whether the duty of self-knowledge is logically coherent (§1). I then examine some of the practical problems surrounding the duty, notably, self-deception (§2). Finding none of Kant’s solutions to the problem of self-deception satisfactory, I conclude by defending a Kantian account of self-knowledge based on his theory of conscience (§3).

Ware does a good job discussing the paradox that I have often referred to in terms of Kant’s vision of ethics: one ought to act only for the sake of the duty and never for the sake of any inclinations, yet once the decision is made to act in a certain way, one never knows exactly what the motivation is (was) that propelled one to act this and not that way. Ware writes: Continue reading

It’s All In Your Head: Neuroscience Strikes Back!

From Newsweek:

Neuroscientists consider it settled that the mind arises from the cooperation of billions of interconnected cells that, individually, are no smarter than amoebae. But it’s a shocking idea to some that the human mind could arise out of such an array of mindlessness. Many express amazement that emotions, pain, sexual feelings or religious belief could be a product of brain function. They are put off by the notion that such rich experiences could be reduced to mechanical or chemical bits. Or they worry that scientific explanations may seduce people into a kind of moral laziness that provides a ready excuse for any human failing: “My brain made me do it.” Our brains indeed do make us do it, but that is nonetheless consistent with meaningful lives and moral choices.

My brain makes me do horrible things… like blogging on the regular basis. Read the rest of the piece.

Thinking About Morality

Here’s an interesting article in the Scientific American by Adina Roskies and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong:

Cognitive science and moral philosophy might seem like strange bedfellows, but in the past decade they have become partners. In a recent issue of Cognition, the Harvard University psychologist Joshua Greene and colleagues extend this trend. Their experiment utilizes conventional behavioral methods, but it was designed to test a hypothesis stemming from previous fMRI investigations into the neural bases of moral judgments (see here and here).

In their study Greene et al. give subjects difficult moral dilemmas in which one alternative leads to better consequences (such as more lives saved) but also violates an intuitive moral restriction (it requires a person to directly or intentionally cause harm to someone else). For example, in the “crying baby” dilemma subjects must judge whether it is wrong to smother their own baby in order to save a large group of people that includes the baby. In this scenario, which was also used by the television show M.A.S.H., enemy soldiers will hear the baby cry unless it is smothered. Sixty percent of people choose to smother the baby in order to save more lives. A judgment that it is appropriate to save the most lives, even if it requires you to suffocate a child, is labeled “utilitarian” by Greene et al., whereas a judgment that it is not appropriate is called “deontological.” These names pay homage to traditional moral philosophies.

The rest is here.