Moral rationalism on the brain

Academic Article


  • I draw on neurobiological evidence to defend the rationalist thesis that moral judgments are essentially dependent on reasoning, not emotions (conceived as distinct from inference). The neuroscience reveals that moral cognition arises from domain-general capacities in the brain for inferring, in particular, the consequences of an agent's action, the agent's intent, and the rules or norms relevant to the context. Although these capacities entangle inference and affect, blurring the reason/emotion dichotomy does not preferentially support sentimentalism. The argument requires careful consideration of the empirical evidence (from neuroimaging to psychopathology) and philosophical analysis of the commitments of rationalism versus sentimentalism in ethics.
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  • Mind and Language  Journal
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  • May J