Professor Daniel Jacobson is Project Leader of a three-year research project on The Science of Ethics, which has been awarded an $850,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The project will be centered at the University of Michigan Philosophy Department and bring renowned philosophers working in moral psychology to the University. The grant will support two books: a collaborative work by Jacobson and Justin D'Arms (Ohio State), "Rational Sentimentalism," and a manuscript by Chandra Sripada (Departments of Philosophy and Psychiatry), "Self and Self-Control." The project will also fund two summer workshops, Moral Psychology and Human Agency (2012) and Human Nature and Moral Knowledge (2013). Each will bring approximately 12 scholars to U-M from across the country and abroad, and will result in a volume of new essays.

The Michigan Philosophy Department has a history of strength in moral psychology and is well known for its engagement with naturalism. This tradition goes back several philosophical generations, from Charles Stevenson’s work on the dynamic use of moral language, to William Frankena’s investigations into naturalism and its critics, and Richard Brandt’s notion of cognitive psychotherapy. This tradition has been continuing with groundbreaking work in empirically informed moral philosophy by current faculty—including Allan Gibbard, Peter Railton, and Elizabeth Anderson. The Science of Ethics project seeks to further this tradition, with attention to recent work in neuroscience, evolutionary biology, experimental economics, social psychology, and cultural anthropology that has spawned a bourgeoning movement in empirical ethics.

The empirical ethics movement has reconceived moral psychology as a thoroughly empirical enterprise. While research in several scientific fields has added greatly to our knowledge of human nature, the practitioners of empirical ethics sometimes overreach in two crucial respects. First, they often draw controversial philosophical conclusions with inadequate appreciation of the deepest ethical questions. Second, their single-minded focus on unconscious factors in moral judgment yields models that threaten to undermine the possibility of human agency. The Science of Ethics project seeks to engage empirical ethics charitably while critically examining its philosophical, and especially its moral, implications.

Other participants in activities sponsored by The Science of Ethics project include Terrence Cuneo (Vermont), Pamela Hieronymi (UCLA) Don Loeb (Vermont), Shaun Nichols (Arizona), Geoffrey Sayre-McCord (North Carolina), Andrea Scarantino (Georgia State), David Shoemaker (Tulane), and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke).