The new science of morality

Edge's John Brockman and the nine speakers in the New Science of Morality Seminar

This last week saw the latest Edge Seminar – The New Science of Morality – held in the US. (see Edge: THE NEW SCIENCE OF MORALITY).

This looks fascinating.  Nine leading researchers in the field gave presentations. Short abstracts are on the Edge site together with videos of the presentations. Transcripts of the presentations will be on line soon.

Morality is an area which religion has tried to ring fence, to claim a special role. But, as with anything else the “god did it” approach gets nowhere. Now the field is being actively researched and there is progress.

The nine researchers who gave presentations were Roy Baumeister, Paul Bloom, Joshua D. Greene, Jonathan Haidt, Sam Harris, Marc D. Hauser, Joshua Knobe, Elizabeth Phelps, David Pizarro.

There is information on the work and background of these researchers below the fold:

ROY BAUMEISTER is Francis Eppes Eminent Scholar and head of the social psychology graduate program at Florida State University. He received his PhD in 1978 from Princeton in experimental social psychology and maintains an active laboratory, but he also seeks to understand human nature in the big picture, such as by tackling broad philosophical problems with social science methods. He has nearly 450 publications. He is among the most widely influential psychologists in the world, as indicated by being cited over a thousand times each year in the scientific literature. His 27 books include Meanings of Life, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, The Cultural Animal: Human Nature, Meaning, and Social Life, Is There Anything Good about Men?, and the forthcoming (with John Tierney) Willpower: The Rediscovery of Humans’ Greatest Strength.

PAUL BLOOM is a professor of psychology at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching. He is past-president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and co-editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, one of the major journals in the field.

JOSHUA D. GREEENE is a cognitive neuroscientist and a philosopher, received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Harvard (1997) and his Ph.D. from Princeton (2002). In 2006 he joined the faculty of Harvard University’s Department of Psychology as an assistant professor. His primary research interest is the psychological and neuroscientific study of morality, focusing on the interplay between emotional and “cognitive” processes in moral decision making. His broader interests cluster around the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. He is currently writing a book about the philosophical implications of our emerging scientific understanding of morality.

JONATHAN HAIDT is Professor in the Social Psychology area of the  Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he does research on morality and emotion, and how they vary across cultures.
He studies morality — its emotional foundations, cultural variations, and developmental course. His early research on moral intuition changed the field of moral psychology, moving it away from its previous focus on moral reasoning.
His current work on the “five foundations of morality” is changing the field again, moving it beyond its traditional focus on issues of harm and fairness, and drawing attention to the moral issues that animate political conservatives and religious believers. This work has been profiled twice in the New York Times — once in a Science Times article by Nicholas Wade, and once in a magazine essay by Stephen Pinker on morality.
Haidt has published 75 academic articles, in Science, Psychological Review, and other leading journals. He is the co-editor of Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well Lived (2003, APA press), and is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, and the forthcoming The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion (Pantheon Books).

SAM HARRIS is a neuroscientist and the author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. He and his work have been discussed in Newsweek, TIME, The New York Times, Scientific American, Nature, Rolling Stone, and many other journals. His writing has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Times (London), The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Annals of Neurology, PLoS ONE, and elsewhere.
Mr. Harris is a Co-Founder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. He received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. He is the author of the forthcoming The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (Free Press).

MARC D. HAUSER is Professor of Psychology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Biological Anthropology at Harvard University, where he is director of the Cognitive Evolution Laboratory and co-director of the Mind, Brian and Behavior Program. He is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, a Guggenheim Award, a Collège de France Science medal and a Harvard College Professorship chair for his excellence in teaching.

He is the author of The Evolution of Communication, Wild Minds: What Animals Think, and Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong. He has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe, as well as on Today, The Early Show, PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers, and NPR.<

He is the author of the forthcoming Evilicious: Why We Evolved a Taste for Being Bad (Viking Penguin)

JOSHUA KNOBE is a faculty member in Yale University’s Program in Cognitive Science. He is one of the founders of the ‘experimental philosophy’ movement, which seeks to use experimental methods to address the traditional problems of philosophy. Accordingly, his publications have appeared both in leading psychology journals (Psychological Science, Cognition, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) and in leading philosophy journals (Journal of Philosophy, Nous, Analysis). His work has been discussed in popular media venues including the New York Times, the BBC and Slate. He is coeditor, with Shaun Nichols, of Experimental Philosophy.

received her PhD from Princeton University in 1989, served on the faculty of Yale University until 1999, and is currently the Silver Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University. Her laboratory has earned widespread acclaim for its groundbreaking research on how the human brain processes emotion, particularly as it relates to learning, memory and decision-making.  Dr. Phelps is the recipient of the 21st Century Scientist Award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society for Experimental Psychology.  She has served on the Board of Directors of the Association for Psychological Science and the Society for Neuroethics, was the President of the Society for Neuroeconomics and is the current editor of the APA journal Emotion.

DAVID PIZARRO , a psychologist at Cornell University, has his primary interest in moral judgment; particularly moral intuitions (especially concerning moral responsibility, and the permissibility or impermissibility of certain acts), and in biases that affect moral judgment. While intuitions re foundational principles on which people base their morality (e.g., that an act has to be intentional in order receive blame for it, or that killing someone is worse than letting them die), biases in moral judgment are the unintended consequence of certain cognitive and emotional processes (e.g., judging someone as more guilty of a crime because they are a racial minority).

Pizarro also has a general interest in the influence of emotional states on thinking and deciding. He is particularly interested in specific emotions (anger, disgust, fear, etc.) and their differential impact on how we rocess information, how we remember events, and how these emotions impact our moral judgments of others.


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4 responses to “The new science of morality

  1. Pingback: Is and ought « Open Parachute

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