Short Review – G. Kahane & N. Shackel. Do Abnormal Responses Show Utilitarian Bias?


G. Kahane and N. Shackel, Nature, 452, 7185, 2008


  • Outlines Greene’s study and findings that “non utilitarian” responses stem from one part of the brain, “utilitarian” from another. Introduces Koenig’s development of Greene’s original research with patients with damage to their VMPC in order to ‘add causation to neuroscientific findings”.
  • Shows that the ‘personal’ dilemmas chosen by Koenig et al are not really utilitarian. Gave situations to a panel of moral philosophers and asked them to classify them. They found that they were far from being simple utilitarian dilemmas and issues.
  • Credits Green for causing an explosion of interest in the field and believes that neuroscience has much to offer.
  • Calls for philosophers to be more careful in adopting conclusions from neuroscience and for more input from philosophers in devising and developing experiments – Greene’s initial research with classic thought experiments – e.g. trolley dilemmas – are interesting but later variants lack rigour.


  • Undoubtedly interesting and confirms an unease felt by many philosophers towards Koenig’s ‘utilitarian’ dilemmas. Arguably shows a viable role for philosophers and philosophy in tandem with neuroscience – in the methodology and objectives of experiments.

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