The Roy A. Rappaport Lectures, Fall 2015: "Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories"
Working from both experimental and observational data, developmental, cognitive, and moral psychologists have proposed a number of candidates for universal features of human ethical life. In this lecture we explore some of the major findings from current research in these fields. The lecture examines the topics of empathy and altruism, the so-called child’s theory of mind and its implication for the relations of self and other, the definition of moral emotions, and the cognitive basis for normativity. Some of this research poses interesting challenges to common understanding of ethics. For example, the concept of moral dumbfounding seems to show that people do not really understand the sources of their own ethical intuitions, and their moral reasoning doesn’t really govern their actions. Do findings like these push ethical thought to the sidelines, to be replaced by neurophysiological or other causal forces? In light of psychological research, what is the place of people’s ethical reason and self-awareness? As the next two lectures will try to demonstrate, in order to complete the account of human activity given by psychological research we need to pay attention to the dynamics of social interaction.