Posts tagged ‘A.S’


Neuroscience & Euthanasia draft essay

here is my contribution to this weeks seminar – it is a working paper in the handbook/introduction mode and my suggestion for a series: to cover a specific issue each and show what neuroscience/science can bring to philosophical & legal issues. You can download the paper here


Short Review: Araszkiewicz, The slippery slope arguments against the legalization of physician-assisted suicide

Michał Araszkiewicz
The slippery slope arguments against the legalization of physician-assisted suicide forthcoming in Studies in the Philosophy of Law IV
 Outlines and examines the various formulations of the slippery slope argument against PAS in considerable detail and within clarity and rigour. Makes a distinction between PAS and euthanasia and withdrawing life support which is perhaps too limiting and, arguably, less sharp.
 Formulates three kinds of Slippery Slope Argument (SSA):
 (LSSA 1) If we allow A, we will be logically forced to allow B, due to the lack of significant difference between them,
 (LSSA 2) If we allow A, we will be logically forced to allow B, due to the sorites structure of the reasoning,
 (ESSA ) If we allow A, B will (ultimately) take place due to the empirical processes.
 Then examines them all against two options available in the Polish context- creating a subjective right to die and a less extreme decriminalisation of helping someone to die.
 Admits the weakness of some of his formulations and concludes with a call for further research on the problem.

 Despite the scholarly approach and detailed examination, the paper perhaps falls victim to something which Araszkiewicz himself terms “SSAs play an important role in political and ethical debate and must not be easily dismissed as logical fallacies”. This is actually far from clear: in the case of LSSA 1, there is a clear difference between helping someone to die of their own volition and killing people who wish to live; in the LSS2, this seems to be exactly the sort of logical fallacy that he claims that they are not; ESSA is perhaps the most enigmatic of them all and from far convincing in my opinion.
 SSA’s are actually the last resort (or sometimes the first port of call) for extremists who wish to avoid a concrete discussion and rather focus on hypothetical and imagined consequences of a very different act – a contemporary case in point being the Republican senator in the US who used such reasoning to claim that Obama’s health care reform will lead to gulags since it is the “slippery slope to socialism”.


Short Review: Naturalising Ethics: The Implications of Darwinism for the Study of Moral Philosophy. Cartwright, J.

Naturalising Ethics: The Implications of Darwinism for the Study of Moral Philosophy

John Cartwright, Springer

Attempts to place Darwinism and evolutionary ethics as an indispensible aid to ethical deliberations. Offers a considerable amount of useful research in support of evolutionary theory’s explanatory power while admitting that our initial reactions have evolved into something more. Attempts to rebut charges of the naturalistic fallacy with varying degrees of success.


  • Holds that the role of Darwinism has been overlooked by moral philosophers, possibly (and understandably) as a result of earlier misconceptions.
  • Outlines a number of interesting examples of the explanatory power of evolutionary theory, including: morality being species specific; kin altruism; tragedy of the commons; mirror neurons and the avoidance of incest.
  • Makes a number of claims concerning the naturalistic fallacy, some of which are more convincing than others. These include:
  • T1: The fact that early Social Darwinists “confused the consequences of natural processes with their values” i.e. that the fact that “unbridled competition” played a role in the formation of some of our ethical sentiments does not mean that it has any influence on them nowadays.
  • T2: That Hume was misunderstood and that he actually maintained that “moral truths are inherent facts about human nature”.
  • T3: Ethical reasoning must somehow take natural facts into account
  • T4: All ethical theories must, to some extent, rely on natural facts.
  • He also sketches the main viewpoints of leading Darwinists, presents an outline of the teaching implications posed by Darwinism (although this feels somewhat superfluous and contrived) and a brief segment of the Kantian Categorical Imperative, again somewhat misplaced.


  • An interesting combination of useful scientific data on the impact/explanatory power of evolutionary theory and a critique of the naturalistic fallacy. The remainder of the article is somewhat superfluous.
  • T1 is a valid point and well justified- obviously he argues that contemporary Darwinists would never leap to such conclusions.
  • T2 is an intriguing notion and follows Walter. Combined with T3 and T4, we do have a convincing argument for considering the findings of evolutionary theory yet the questions remains as to exactly how. Furthermore, whilst they clearly have powerful explanatory and descriptive force, they do not address 2 key points: firstly, in the sense that whilst they provide a clear is about human nature i.e. we tend to protect our family more than strangers, there is no clear ought – we no longer enjoy the same kind of kinship groups that led to the development of such capabilities and they are frequently a source of injustice. Secondly, they offer little for the understanding of how moral and ethical concepts have themselves evolved – mirror neurons play a role in both face to face contact and also when we watch, for example, a televised appeal for aid in Haiti.

Short Review – Araszkiewicz, Human Genetic Engineering and the Problems of Distributive Justice (forthcoming)

Michał Araszkiewicz

Human Genetic Engineering and the Problems of Distributive Justice (forthcoming)


  • Outlines Human Genetic Engineering (HGE) in terms of the moral problems associated with it as well as relevant issues with distributive justice.
  • Sketches two opposing standpoints – trans-humanists and bio-conservatives – and posts their key positions
  • Assesses how the Rawlsian Principle of Fair Equality of Opportunity deals with the issues posed by these developments, as analysed by two Rawlsians, Resnik and Farrelly.
  • Resnik, according to Araszkiewicz, seems to favour some genetic engineering to redress naturally occurring imbalances. He sees the government largely controlling this but with some fundamental rights retained by individuals.
  • Farrelly offers a slightly more sophisticated distinction between three positions: GE – Genetic Equality Principle. Everyone should have the same genetic potential; GDM – Genetic Decent Minimum Principle. Everyone should have genetic potential which exceeds some minimum threshold; GDP – Genetic Difference Principle – Genetic endowments ought to be distributed to the greatest possible benefit of the worst-off. Farrelly favours the latter together with another mechanism, the “Reasonable Genetic Intervention Model” (RGIM), which safeguards reproductive rights.
  • Araszkiewicz feels that Farrelly unwittingly leaves the door open for a potentially slippery slope to a genetic caste based society whilst Resnik, whilst cautious, acts wisely in warning of the dangers of the potential emergence of a HE black market.


  • A very thorough and clearly set out introductory essay which, nevertheless, goes further than most such works.
  • I personally feel that Araszkiewicz is perhaps a little harsh on Farrelly as it is precisely the worst off in society that his principle seeks to protect, rather than allowing wholesale access to such technology.
  • Resnik, on the other hand, makes no moral distinction between Genetic Therapy (redressing imbalances/deficiencies) and Genetic Enhancement (improving something which is already above an accepted minimum), in my opinion a clear oversight.
  • Araszkiewicz holds that Farrelly fails to account for the costs involved, believing that it is precisely the fact that such technology is expensive which will lead to it being the preserve of the rich. This is surely the point of such legislation – to ensure that this is not the case, as any good Rawlsian would agree!

Draft paper – Neuroscience and Moral Philosophy: Applications and Exaggerations.

Very much a work in progress and intended as a discussion piece! The methodology of the paper will be to compare existing theories of morality with the findings of neuroscience and ethology in order to gauge which is more compatible. The implications, I feel, are the real crux of the paper – setting out the ground on which philosophy can play a valuable role.

Morality paper-outline


Short Review – P S Churchland, The Impact of Neuroscience on Philosophy

The Impact of Neuroscience on Philosophy

Patricia Smith Churchland1,*

1Philosophy Department, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA

Draws on a number of well known scientific findings in neurobiology in an attempt to show that moral philosophy requires a considerable overhaul in terms of its preconceptions and, indeed, that it can be replaced by the findings of neuroscience.


  • That in the history of science, ‘speculative philosophy’ has gradually been replaced by more and more exact ‘pure’ science.
  • That moral philosophers have generally felt that the findings of neuroscience are irrelevant to their own deliberations.
  • The differences in OT (Oxytocin) levels between prairie and montane voles manifest themselves in very different behavioural patterns: the former tend to be monogamous, mate for life and assist in rearing their young. The latter do not.
  • Also highlights the role of OT (used as a nasal spray) in fostering trust in interpersonal relations.
  • Uses these findings to posit that ‘attachment, and its cohort, trust, are the anchors of morality; the reward systems tune up behavioral responses’.
  • Gives a far from convincing counter argument to the unique nature of human morality – the fact that humans have a long history of conflict and immorality and that universal human rights is only a relatively recent invention – and argues that ‘biologically rooted dispositions explain extending social attachment beyond kin and clan’.
  • Finishes with an explanation of the importance of mimicry in building trust and acceptance.


  • Some intriguing scientific findings – particularly those involving OT – and certainly gives attention to the importance of trust in moral philosophy, something which has often been overlooked.
  • I feel she perhaps misses the real unique aspect of human morality and actions – our ability to stimulate ourselves. By this rather gnomic pronouncement I mean that whereas animals act in response to internal stimuli (e.g. a rush of adrenaline causes them to fight or flee), we are able to perform actions which cause these internal stimuli – we decide that we trust someone and this produces heightened OT levels.

Short Review. J. Haidt. The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment.

Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review. 108, 814-834


  • Haidt’s social intuitionist approach offers a descriptive theory of moral judgements, drawing on the findings of neuroscience to posit a greater role for the emotions than, or so Haidt maintains, they have previously been afforded.
  • A series of thought experiments concerning  societal taboos (incest, bestiality etc) finds that they result in what he terms moral dumbfounding – the attractive and ‘intuitively’ appealing idea that in some ethical discussions we reach a point where we run out of reasons, that an action is simply ‘wrong’. Haidt posits that “moral intuition is a kind of cognition, but it is not a kind of reasoning”.
  • For Haidt, the majority of reasoning is post hoc i.e. we have an intuition and then we seek to rationalize it. Haidt draws on the findings of neuroscience (particularly Damasio) to show that the ventro-medial area of the prefrontal cortex effectively houses these moral intuitions.
  • Haidt explains the existence of these intuitions as the result of enculturation experienced during a critical period of mental development. Morality then, for Haidt, is “an evolutionary adaptation for an intensely social species…that is best described as emergent than as learned”.
  • The importance of the dog/tail metaphor is not to be underestimated – for Haidt, we are essentially emotional dogs who only communicate ‘rationally’ via our tails (dogs use their tails to communicate the majority of their emotions) but it is our emotional body which causes the tail to wag.


  • Haidt, however, fails to address the issue of non-conformists who reject the enculturated values which stem from their society. As a result, it is hard to see how he can explain the actions of those who reject the enculturated morality yet do something ‘right’.
  • Furthermore, the prefrontal cortex findings have subsequently been questioned by other researchers and Haidt also fails to address the possibility that intuitions may be previously stored rational judgments. In much the same way as language is learned, an initial stage of focused attention or rational ‘learning’ leads to linguistics knowledge passing from short term to long term memory and becoming internalized, so too could rational judgments become intuitions.
  • The examples of moral dumbfounding that he offers could be explained by the fact that they are all societal taboos – prior reasoning has dictated that they are wrong and they have subsequently become encoded.
  • Finally, Haidt seems to confuse reasoning with rationalizing, the latter being what he calls post hoc reasoning.

Short Review – D. Narvaez. The Social-Intuitionist Model: Some Counter-Intuitions.

Narvaez, D. (2008). The Social-Intuitionist Model: Some Counter-Intuitions. In W. A. Sinnott-Armstrong (Ed.), Moral Psychology, Vol. 2, The Cognitive science of morality: Intuition and diversity


  • Praises Haidt’s corrective to the notion that we are essentially rational beings which make fully conscious decisions, agreeing that we are ‘largely influenced by unconscious systems’.
  • Also follows Haidt in acknowledging a greater role for socialisation on human cognition.
  • Critiques H for limiting ‘their discussion of moral judgment to the cognitive appraisal of the action or character of a person’. Claims that it is not clear how the SIT can address human cognition beyond this scope.
  • Disagrees that moral judgements are similar to aesthetic ones since they are more complex and draw on a wider range of information. Moral judgements often involve a whole gamut of issues ranging from principles, weighing up goals and objectives as well as consciously resigning from previously held beliefs – not just gut feelings.
  • Questions the neuroscientific basis of Haidt’s theory – from the fact that the existence of modules in the brain ‘are more rooted in creative thinking than in empirical evidence (Panksepp & Panksepp, 2000)’ to the fact that the frontal cortex is more something which is determined by experience rather than explicitly hard wired.
  • Rejects that enculturation and morality are one and the same, citing the case of MLK as someone who rejected the values of their culture in favour of a higher morality.


  • Perhaps does not give rationality and rational thought the credit it deserves – although fairer than Haidt.
  • A good point – especially since it is grounded in the findings of Panksepp & Panksepp).
  • Another fair criticism – I would also argue that he overlooks the possibility that these ‘intuitions’ are actually previously ‘learned’ rational judgements. In the same manner in which learners of a language overextend words beyond their concepts, we may also overextend prior rational judgements (e.g. concerning incest) to slightly different situations.
  • Undoubtedly true – yet Narvaez fails to show how we decide and deliberate between these (often) conflicting conscious and subconscious motivations – arguably a stage for the return of (with a deliberate capital R) Reason?
  • A valuable contribution – we might just as easily posit the existence of a soul
  • Another fair point but fails to show exactly why this is the case.

Short Review – P. Singer. Ethics and Intuitions.

Ethics and Intuitions. Peter Singer.  Source: The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 9, No. 3/4, Devoted to James Rachels (2005)


  • After Rachels, holds that intuitions should not be the basis for a normative moral theory.
  • Justifies this with reference to Greene’s Trolley Dilemma, ultimately showing that whilst there may be an emotional difference in throwing a switch or pushing a fat man off an overpass, there is no moral difference.
  • Does hold, however, that ‘the single most important advantage we have over the great moral philosophers of the past is our understanding of evolution and its application to ethics’ but that ‘the direction of evolution neither follows, nor has any connection with, the path of moral progress’.
  • The application of neuroscience and neurobiology is, for Singer, not in that they offer new conceptions of ethics but that ‘undermine some conceptions of ethics which themselves have normative conclusions’. Furthermore, it has helped to explain the causes of previously observed attitudes.
  • Offers two potential directions for future study: firstly, that we can accept that moral intuitions ‘are and always will be emotionally based intuitive responses’, potentially leading to a form of moral scepticism, or we can try to disentangle the emotional responses which we owe to our evolutionary and cultural history from those with a rational foundation.


  • A case of the philosophers strike back. Placing intuitions at the heart of morality surely leads to relativism and, as the Trolley Dilemma shows, ‘there is no point trying to find moral principles that justify differing intuitions’.
  • Seemingly sound but doesn’t question the fundamental presuppositions of Greene’s work – how do we know which emotions are triggered in this experiment?
  • Although could we not regard morality itself as an evolving set of competing (sub) systems? As Singer himself notes ‘there is little point in constructing a moral theory designed to match considered moral judgements that themselves stem from our evolved responses to the situations in which we and our ancestors lived during the period of our evolution as social mammals, primates and finally human beings’.
  • A useful strategy to apply in fields such as human nature, free will, epistemology… almost any aspect of philosophy which deals with a human agent.
  • It is a little unclear as to how the second approach could work, something which Singer himself acknowledges.

Short Review – C. Allen and M. Bekoff. Animal Play and the Evolution of Morality: An Ethological Approach

Animal Play and the Evolution of Morality: An Ethological Approach Colin Allen and Marc Bekoff.  Topoi, Volume 24, Number 2 / September, 2005


  • Ethology, whether via the study of laboratory animals or their observation in their natural habitat, can offer considerable food for thought in outlining the origin of morality.
  • An analysis of animal play patterns (particularly amongst canids) reveals a number of interesting proto-moral features. Young animals use play to develop a “foundation of fairness” which allows and furthers future cooperation in the group.
  • Playing fair, as with humans, may also result in the release of endorphins, effectively rewarding fair play.
  • They argue that contemporary research should be diversified away from nonhuman primates in order to widen the scope of the examination of morality amongst animals.
  • Fair play in groups is rewarded by groups and those who do not abide by the “rules” tend to be excluded from the social group – with severe consequences. Coyotes who were seen to break the rules of fair play leave the main group, with 55% dying within a year (compared with an in group mortality rate of 20%).
  • Bekoff further contends that much of morality consists of basic emotional responses and the distribution of resources fairly, things which “have analogues in animal behaviour”.


  • Undoubtedly poses some interesting questions as to the potential origins of morality – even though, as Bekoff admits, “animals don’t theorize on the level of the Kantian categorical imperative”, neither do most humans.
  • Perhaps the most intriguing aspect concerning the evolution of morality – as Bekoff puts it, “to say that the roots of morality can be found in animal behaviour is not necessarily to say that morality itself is a characteristic of those animals”. In other words, we can use the findings of ethology to (potentially) shed light on the roots of our own moral activity without the need to consider the obvious differences between humans and non-humans.
  • Places social relationships at the core of morality.
  • Unfortunately, ethology can only offer us insights into the origins of morality, not its evolution and, particularly, its complexity.