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Accordingly, philosophers who have examined moral reasoning within an essentially Humean, belief-desire psychology have sometimes accepted a constrained account of moral reasoning. As Hume has it, the calm passions support the dual correction of perspective constitutive of morality, alluded to above. Since these calm passions are seen as competing with our other passions in essentially the same motivational coinage, as it were, our passions limit the reach of moral reasoning. These are desires whose objects cannot be characterized without reference to some rational or moral principle.

Introducing principle-dependent desires thus seems to mark a departure from a Humean psychology. The introduction of principle-dependent desires bursts any would-be naturalist limit on their content; nonetheless, some philosophers hold that this notion remains too beholden to an essentially Humean picture to be able to capture the idea of a moral commitment. Desires, it may seem, remain motivational items that compete on the basis of strength. Sartre designed his example of the student torn between staying with his mother and going to fight with the Free French so as to make it seem implausible that he ought to decide simply by determining which he more strongly wanted to do.

One way to get at the idea of commitment is to emphasize our capacity to reflect about what we want. Although this idea is evocative, it provides relatively little insight into how it is that we thus reflect. Another way to model commitment is to take it that our intentions operate at a level distinct from our desires, structuring what we are willing to reconsider at any point in our deliberations e. Bratman While this two-level approach offers some advantages, it is limited by its concession of a kind of normative primacy to the unreconstructed desires at the unreflective level.

A more integrated approach might model the psychology of commitment in a way that reconceives the nature of desire from the ground up. One attractive possibility is to return to the Aristotelian conception of desire as being for the sake of some good or apparent good cf. Richardson Reasoning about final ends accordingly has a distinctive character see Richardson , Schmidtz Whatever the best philosophical account of the notion of a commitment — for another alternative, see Tiberius — much of our moral reasoning does seem to involve expressions of and challenges to our commitments Anderson and Pildes Recent experimental work, employing both survey instruments and brain imaging technologies, has allowed philosophers to approach questions about the psychological basis of moral reasoning from novel angles.

The initial brain data seems to show that individuals with damage to the pre-frontal lobes tend to reason in more straightforwardly consequentialist fashion than those without such damage Koenigs et al. Some theorists take this finding as tending to confirm that fully competent human moral reasoning goes beyond a simple weighing of pros and cons to include assessment of moral constraints e.

Others, however, have argued that the emotional responses of the prefrontal lobes interfere with the more sober and sound, consequentialist-style reasoning of the other parts of the brain e. Greene The survey data reveals or confirms, among other things, interesting, normatively loaded asymmetries in our attribution of such concepts as responsibility and causality Knobe A final question about the connection between moral motivation and moral reasoning is whether someone without the right motivational commitments can reason well, morally.

The vicious person could trace the causal and logical implications of acting in a certain way just as a virtuous person could. The only difference would be practical, not rational: the two would not act in the same way. On his view in the Groundwork and the Critique of Practical Reason , reasoning well, morally, does not depend on any prior motivational commitment, yet remains practical reasoning. That is because he thinks the moral law can itself generate motivation.

For Aristotle, by contrast, an agent whose motivations are not virtuously constituted will systematically misperceive what is good and what is bad, and hence will be unable to reason excellently. Moral considerations often conflict with one another. So do moral principles and moral commitments. Recall that it is one thing to model the metaphysics of morality or the truth conditions of moral statements and another to give an account of moral reasoning.

In now looking at conflicting considerations, our interest here remains with the latter and not the former. Our principal interest is in ways that we need to structure or think about conflicting considerations in order to negotiate well our reasoning involving them. One influential building-block for thinking about moral conflicts is W. Although this term misleadingly suggests mere appearance — the way things seem at first glance — it has stuck.

This suggests that in each case there is, in principle, some function that generally maps from the partial contributions of each prima facie duty to some actual duty. What might that function be? Accordingly, a second strand in Ross simply emphasizes, following Aristotle, the need for practical judgment by those who have been brought up into virtue How might considerations of the sort constituted by prima facie duties enter our moral reasoning?

They might do so explicitly, or only implicitly. There is also a third, still weaker possibility Scheffler , 32 : it might simply be the case that if the agent had recognized a prima facie duty, he would have acted on it unless he considered it to be overridden. This is a fact about how he would have reasoned. On this conception, if there is a conflict between two prima facie duties, the one that is strongest in the circumstances should be taken to win.

Duly cautioned about the additive fallacy see section 2. Hence, this approach will need still to rely on intuitive judgments in many cases. But this intuitive judgment will be about which prima facie consideration is stronger in the circumstances, not simply about what ought to be done. The thought that our moral reasoning either requires or is benefited by a virtual quantitative crutch of this kind has a long pedigree. Can we really reason well morally in a way that boils down to assessing the weights of the competing considerations?

Addressing this question will require an excursus on the nature of moral reasons. Philosophical support for this possibility involves an idea of practical commensurability. We need to distinguish, here, two kinds of practical commensurability or incommensurability, one defined in metaphysical terms and one in deliberative terms. Each of these forms might be stated evaluatively or deontically. The first, metaphysical sort of value incommensurability is defined directly in terms of what is the case.

Thus, to state an evaluative version: two values are metaphysically incommensurable just in case neither is better than the other nor are they equally good see Chang Now, the metaphysical incommensurability of values, or its absence, is only loosely linked to how it would be reasonable to deliberate. Hence, in thinking about the deliberative implications of incommensurable values , we would do well to think in terms of a definition tailored to the deliberative context. Start with a local, pairwise form. We may say that two options, A and B, are deliberatively commensurable just in case there is some one dimension of value in terms of which, prior to — or logically independently of — choosing between them, it is possible adequately to represent the force of the considerations bearing on the choice.

Philosophers as diverse as Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill have argued that unless two options are deliberatively commensurable, in this sense, it is impossible to choose rationally between them. Interestingly, Kant limited this claim to the domain of prudential considerations, recognizing moral reasoning as invoking considerations incommensurable with those of prudence.

Schneewind This is the principle that conflict between distinct moral or practical considerations can be rationally resolved only on the basis of some third principle or consideration that is both more general and more firmly warranted than the two initial competitors. From this assumption, one can readily build an argument for the rational necessity not merely of local deliberative commensurability, but of a global deliberative commensurability that, like Mill and Sidgwick, accepts just one ultimate umpire principle cf.

Richardson , chap. Sometimes indeed we revise our more particular judgments in light of some general principle to which we adhere; but we are also free to revise more general principles in light of some relatively concrete considered judgment. On this picture, there is no necessary correlation between degree of generality and strength of authority or warrant.

That this holistic way of proceeding whether in building moral theory or in deliberating: cf. Note that this statement, which expresses a necessary aspect of moral or practical justification, should not be taken as a definition or analysis thereof. If even the desideratum of practical coherence is subject to such re-specification, then this holistic possibility really does represent an alternative to commensuration, as the deliberator, and not some coherence standard, retains reflective sovereignty Richardson , sec. The result can be one in which the originally competing considerations are not so much compared as transformed Richardson , chap.

Suppose that we start with a set of first-order moral considerations that are all commensurable as a matter of ultimate, metaphysical fact, but that our grasp of the actual strength of these considerations is quite poor and subject to systematic distortions. Perhaps some people are much better placed than others to appreciate certain considerations, and perhaps our strategic interactions would cause us to reach suboptimal outcomes if we each pursued our own unfettered judgment of how the overall set of considerations plays out.

In such circumstances, there is a strong case for departing from maximizing reasoning without swinging all the way to the holist alternative. A simple example is that of Ann, who is tired after a long and stressful day, and hence has reason not to act on her best assessment of the reasons bearing on a particularly important investment decision that she immediately faces This notion of an exclusionary reason allowed Raz to capture many of the complexities of our moral reasoning, especially as it involves principled commitments, while conceding that, at the first order, all practical reasons might be commensurable.

The broader justification of an exclusionary reason, then, can consistently be put in terms of the commensurable first-order reasons. Whether such an attempt could succeed would depend, in part, on the extent to which we have an actual grasp of first-order reasons, conflict among which can be settled solely on the basis of their comparative strength.

If that is right, then we will almost always have good exclusionary reasons to reason on some other basis than in terms of the relative strength of first-order reasons. We may take it, if we like, that this judgment implies that we consider the duty to save a life, here, to be stronger than the duty to keep the promise; but in fact this claim about relative strength adds nothing to our understanding of the situation.

The statement that this duty is here stronger is simply a way to embellish the conclusion that of the two prima facie duties that here conflict, it is the one that states the all-things-considered duty. Hence, the judgment that some duties override others can be understood just in terms of their deontic upshots and without reference to considerations of strength.

Understanding the notion of one duty overriding another in this way puts us in a position to take up the topic of moral dilemmas. Since this topic is covered in a separate article, here we may simply take up one attractive definition of a moral dilemma. Sinnott-Armstrong suggested that a moral dilemma is a situation in which the following are true of a single agent:. Making sense of a situation in which neither of two duties overrides the other is easier if deliberative commensurability is denied.

Samples of Mission Statements

If either of these purported principles of the logic of duties is false, then moral dilemmas are possible. Dancy , Dancy argues that reasons holism supports moral particularism of the kind discussed in section 2. Taking this conclusion seriously would radically affect how we conducted our moral reasoning. Philosophers have also challenged the inference from reasons holism to particularism in various ways. Mark Lance and Margaret Olivia Little have done so by exhibiting how defeasible generalizations, in ethics and elsewhere, depend systematically on context.

We can work with them, they suggest, by utilizing a skill that is similar to the skill of discerning morally salient considerations, namely the skill of discerning relevant similarities among possible worlds. More generally, John F.

Horty has developed a logical and semantic account according to which reasons are defaults and so behave holistically, but there are nonetheless general principles that explain how they behave Horty And Mark Schroeder has argued that our holistic views about reasons are actually better explained by supposing that there are general principles Schroeder This excursus on moral reasons suggests that there are a number of good reasons why reasoning about moral matters might not simply reduce to assessing the weights of competing considerations.

If we have any moral knowledge, whether concerning general moral principles or concrete moral conclusions, it is surely very imperfect. What moral knowledge we are capable of will depend, in part, on what sorts of moral reasoning we are capable of. Although some moral learning may result from the theoretical work of moral philosophers and theorists, much of what we learn with regard to morality surely arises in the practical context of deliberation about new and difficult cases.

This deliberation might be merely instrumental, concerned only with settling on means to moral ends, or it might be concerned with settling those ends. There is no special problem about learning what conduces to morally obligatory ends: that is an ordinary matter of empirical learning. But by what sorts of process can we learn which ends are morally obligatory, or which norms morally required?

And, more specifically, is strictly moral learning possible via moral reasoning? Much of what was said above with regard to moral uptake applies again in this context, with approximately the same degree of dubiousness or persuasiveness. For instance, it is conceivable that our capacity for outrage is a relatively reliable detector of wrong actions, even novel ones, or that our capacity for pleasure is a reliable detector of actions worth doing, even novel ones.

Charitable giving and lay morality: understanding sympathy, moral evaluations and social positions

For a thorough defense of the latter possibility, which intriguingly interprets pleasure as a judgment of value, see Millgram That is to say, perhaps our moral emotions play a crucial role in the exercise of a skill whereby we come to be able to articulate moral insights that we have never before attained. Perhaps competing moral considerations interact in contextually specific and complex ways much as competing chess considerations do. If so, it would make sense to rely on our emotionally-guided capacities of judgment to cope with complexities that we cannot model explicitly, but also to hope that, once having been so guided, we might in retrospect be able to articulate something about the lesson of a well-navigated situation.

If we are, then perhaps we can learn by experience what some of them are — that is, what are some of the constitutive means of happiness. Dewey []. Once we recognize that moral learning is a possibility for us, we can recognize a broader range of ways of coping with moral conflicts than was canvassed in the last section. There, moral conflicts were described in a way that assumed that the set of moral considerations, among which conflicts were arising, was to be taken as fixed. If we can learn, morally, however, then we probably can and should revise the set of moral considerations that we recognize.

Often, we do this by re-interpreting some moral principle that we had started with, whether by making it more specific, making it more abstract, or in some other way cf. Richardson and So far, we have mainly been discussing moral reasoning as if it were a solitary endeavor. This is, at best, a convenient simplification. Laden In any case, it is clear that we often do need to reason morally with one another.

Here, we are interested in how people may actually reason with one another — not in how imagined participants in an original position or ideal speech situation may be said to reason with one another, which is a concern for moral theory, proper. There are two salient and distinct ways of thinking about people morally reasoning with one another: as members of an organized or corporate body that is capable of reaching practical decisions of its own; and as autonomous individuals working outside any such structure to figure out with each other what they ought, morally, to do. The nature and possibility of collective reasoning within an organized collective body has recently been the subject of some discussion.

Collectives can reason if they are structured as an agent. This structure might or might not be institutionalized. As List and Pettit have shown , — , participants in a collective agent will unavoidably have incentives to misrepresent their own preferences in conditions involving ideologically structured disagreements where the contending parties are oriented to achieving or avoiding certain outcomes — as is sometimes the case where serious moral disagreements arise.

Where the group in question is smaller than the set of persons, however, such a collectively prudential focus is distinct from a moral focus and seems at odds with the kind of impartiality typically thought distinctive of the moral point of view. This does not mean that people cannot reason together, morally. It suggests, however, that such joint reasoning is best pursued as a matter of working out together, as independent moral agents, what they ought to do with regard to an issue on which they have some need to cooperate. In the case of independent individuals reasoning morally with one another, we may expect that moral disagreement provides the occasion rather than an obstacle.

Cohen argued Cohen , chap. What about the possibility that the moral community as a whole — roughly, the community of all persons — can reason? This possibility does not raise the kind of threat to impartiality that is raised by the team reasoning of a smaller group of people; but it is hard to see it working in a way that does not run afoul of the concern about whether any person can aptly defer, in a strong sense, to the moral judgments of another agent. Even so, a residual possibility remains, which is that the moral community can reason in just one way, namely by accepting or ratifying a moral conclusion that has already become shared in a sufficiently inclusive and broad way Richardson , chap.

The author is grateful for help received from Gopal Sreenivasan and the students in a seminar on moral reasoning taught jointly with him, to the students in a more recent seminar in moral reasoning, and, for criticisms received, to David Brink, Margaret Olivia Little and Mark Murphy. He welcomes further criticisms and suggestions for improvement. The Philosophical Importance of Moral Reasoning 1. General Philosophical Questions about Moral Reasoning 2.

General Philosophical Questions about Moral Reasoning To be sure, most great philosophers who have addressed the nature of moral reasoning were far from agnostic about the content of the correct moral theory, and developed their reflections about moral reasoning in support of or in derivation from their moral theory.

We may group these around the following seven questions: How do relevant considerations get taken up in moral reasoning? Is it essential to moral reasoning for the considerations it takes up to be crystallized into, or ranged under, principles? How do we sort out which moral considerations are most relevant?

In what ways do motivational elements shape moral reasoning? What is the best way to model the kinds of conflicts among considerations that arise in moral reasoning? How can we reason, morally, with one another? The remainder of this article takes up these seven questions in turn. Sinnott-Armstrong suggested that a moral dilemma is a situation in which the following are true of a single agent: He ought to do A. He ought to do B. He cannot do both A and B. Bibliography Anderson, E. Anderson, E. Arpaly, N. In praise of desire , Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Audi, R. Practical reasoning , London: Routledge. Bacharach, M. Beauchamp, T. Robinson, Clifton, N. Brandt, R. A theory of the good and the right , Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bratman, M. Broome, J. Order now to secure your copy when our stock arrives. Expected to ship in 5 to 6 weeks from Australia. Check the Stock Availability in my Local Store.

Product Details. Related Products Common Objects of Love. Bestsellers in Christian Worldview. But such structures may, in turn, be subject—given sufficient time scales—to genetic modification under the selection pressures imposed by culturally evolved practices and preferences. So just as shoes adapt to the needs of biologically endowed feet, so feet may need to adapt to fit cultural prescriptions. And in the same way, certain universal features of our biologically evolved cognitive architecture and our culturally evolved religious and moral representations may result from complex processes of coevolution.

To analyze these various processes correctly, however, it is vital that we disambiguate at which levels selection acts on which traits. Cultural representations e. The relations depicted here are intended to be illustrative rather than exhaustive.

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In what follows, we begin by fractionating, first, morality and, then, religion into elements that are thought to be recurrent features of human evolved psychology. We then consider whether there is evidence that any of the fractionated elements of religion have a biologically evolved connection to the fractionated elements of morality. We will argue that there is scant evidence for this at present. We then consider the cultural evolution of the religion—morality relationship. Here we argue that cultural evolution has served to connect the fractionated elements of religion and morality in a cascading myriad of ways, and it is at this level primarily that the religion—morality debate might be most fruitfully focused in future.

MFT is an avowedly pluralistic theory of morality. MFT falls within the latter tradition, proposing that the rich array of culturally constructed moral norms and institutions are triggered and constrained by several universal and innate psychological systems—the eponymous moral foundations. Moral foundations theorists have highlighted five core foundations, giving rise to the following pan-human principles: a care—harm: harming others is wrong, whereas treating others with kindness and compassion is right; b fairness—cheating: people should reap what they sow and not take more than they deserve; c in group loyalty—betrayal: what is good for the community comes above selfish interests; d respect for authority—subversion: we should defer to our elders and betters and respect tradition; and e purity—degradation: the body is a temple and can be desecrated by immoral actions and contaminants.

Moral foundations theorists claim that each of these principles is written into our distinctively human nature, arising from the normal operation of evolved cognitive mechanisms. On the other hand, the moral foundations are conceived as constraining, rather than determining, the types of moral systems that humans construct. One of the major contributions of the moral foundations approach has been to highlight the cultural and political variability in the expression of these foundations. Some cultures construct their moral norms and institutions on a comparatively small subset of foundations.

Although MFT is not without its critics, we regard it as the most fully developed, integrative, and comprehensive theory of morality currently available. Some critics monists dispute pluralism per se. For example, Gray et al. Many have argued that homosexuality is harmful, for instance, harmful to families or to society more generally e. But Gray et al. Whereas Gray et al.

To cite another topical example, the social media service Facebook recently attracted criticism for allowing users to post graphic footage of beheadings, while prohibiting photos of videos containing nudity including images of breastfeeding in which the baby does not totally obscure the nipple or in which the non-nursing breast is in view; see Clark, A final example concerns moral judgments of suicide, the self-directed nature of which poses an apparent problem for Gray et al.

One might argue that people who commit suicide harm others e. However, a recent study by Rottman, Kelemen, and Young casts doubt on this explanation. Participants read a series of fictitious but ostensibly real obituaries describing suicide or homicide victims, and made a series of ratings including rating the moral wrongness of each death. Whereas perceived harm was the only variable predicting moral judgments of homicide, feelings of disgust and purity concerns—but not harm ratings—predicted moral condemnations of suicide.

However, proponents of MFT do not claim that their list of five foundations is exhaustive, but have actively sought out arguments and evidence for others e. Moral foundations theorists have put forward their own celestial analogy to describe the process of identifying foundations:. There are millions of objects orbiting the sun, but astronomers do not call them all planets. There are six including the Earth that are so visible that they were recorded in multiple ancient civilizations, and then there are a bunch of objects further out that were discovered with telescopes.

Astronomers disagreed for a while as to whether Pluto and some more distant icy bodies should be considered planets. Similarly, we are content to say that there are many aspects of human nature that contribute to and constrain moral judgment, and our task is to identify the most important ones. Graham et al. Using the fairness foundation for illustration, Graham et al. First, the relevant moral concern must feature regularly in third-party normative judgments, wherein people express condemnation for actions that have no direct consequences for them.

Fairness certainly satisfies this requirement—as Graham and colleagues note, gossip about group members who violate fairness norms e. Second, violations of the moral principle in question must elicit rapid, automatic, affectively valenced evaluations. LoBue, Nishida, Chiong, DeLoache, and Haidt found that children as young as 3 years old reacted rapidly and negatively to unequal distributions of stickers, particularly personally disadvantageous distributions.

For Graham et al. Their last three criteria relate to foundationhood per se. First, foundational moral concerns should be culturally widespread. According to Graham et al. Second, there should be indicators of innate preparedness for foundational concerns. Moreover, developmental studies show that young infants are sensitive to inequity.

For example, Sloane, Baillargeon, and Premack found that month-old children expected an experimenter to reward each of two individuals when both had worked at an assigned task, but not when one of the individuals had done all the work. Baumard, Mascaro, and Chevallier found that 3- and 4-year-old children were able to take merit into account by distributing tokens according to individual contributions. Finally, an evolutionary model should clearly specify the adaptive advantage conferred by the candidate foundation upon individuals who bore it in the ancestral past as Graham et al.

Fairness meets this criterion nicely. Although Saroglou provides a valuable synthesis of previous taxonomies of core religious dimensions, in our view, the dimensions he settles on Believing, Bonding, Behaving, Belonging do not correspond well to evolved cognitive systems, so are not good candidates for religious foundations. There are at least two important and potentially dissociable supernatural concepts here: the notion of supernatural agency , on the one hand e.

These consequences may be mediated by supernatural agents, as when gods bestow rewards or dispense punishments in this life or the next; but they may also reflect the impersonal unfolding of a cosmic principle e. Moreover, supernatural agents are not necessarily in the business of attending to our behaviors and implementing relevant consequences—as we shall review, gods vary in their concerns with human affairs in general and with moral issues more specifically.

In view of these various considerations, one could posit not one but two distinct dimensions of supernatural belief here: a supernatural agency, and b supernatural justice. Rather than take this route, our preference is to specify a small subset of evolved cognitive systems that, jointly or in isolation, would account for why these dimensions are cross-culturally and historically recurrent. Here we discuss five strong candidates for religious foundationhood: a a system specialized for the detection of agents ; b a system devoted to representing, inferring, and predicting the mental states of intentional agents; c a system geared toward producing teleofunctional explanations of objects and events; d a system specialized for affiliating with groups through the imitation of causally opaque action sequences; and e a system specialized for the detection of genetic kinship.

Like proponents of MFT, we do not claim that this list is exhaustive, and future research may suggest alternative, or additional, candidates when relevant, we discuss current alternate views. Nevertheless, based on an extensive review of the cognitive science of religion literature, the following represent the most plausible candidates for universal religious foundations, on current evidence.

This logic has been used to undergird an influential claim in the cognitive science of religion. Guthrie has argued that for humans in the ancestral past, mistaking an agent e. Humans should therefore be equipped by natural selection with biased agency-detection mechanisms—what J. HADDs are often described as perceptual mechanisms, devices biased toward the perception of agents in ambiguous stimulus configurations. A by-product of their functioning would be a tendency toward false positives e.

A broader conception of HADDs includes attributions of nonrandom structure Bloom, —such as naturally occurring patterns and events with no clear physical cause—to the activity of agents. In other words, HADDs are a suite of hypothetical devices specialized for perceiving either agents or their effects. Such notions, once posited, would be attention grabbing, memorable, and thus highly transmissible because of their resonance with intuitive cognitive structures such as HADDs J. Barrett, ; J. Indeed, just as the cultural success of high-heeled shoes may owe to the fact that they function as supernormal stimuli insofar as they exaggerate sex specific aspects of female gait; Morris et al.

At present, the evidence for a connection between supernatural concepts and beliefs and agency cognition is mixed. Meanwhile Riekki, Lindeman, Aleneff, Halme, and Nuortimo found that religious believers showed more of a bias than nonbelievers to indicate that photographs of inanimate scenes e.

In all of these studies, agency detection was a measured variable. As far as we are aware, to date, no published study has investigated whether manipulating cues of agency e. Given the hypothesized causal route whereby agency detection biases predispose humans to acquire beliefs in religious concepts , this may be a fruitful avenue for future research.

For example, functional MRI experiments with religious participants have shown that religious belief Kapogiannis et al. Finally, Norenzayan, Gervais, and Trzesniewski found that autistic participants expressed less belief in God than did matched neurotypical controls. In follow-up studies using nonclinical samples, these authors found that higher autism scores predicted lower belief in God, a relationship mediated by mentalizing abilities. ToM is also thought to play an important role in afterlife beliefs.

It has been suggested, for example, that people spontaneously infer that dead relatives and friends are still present, even in the absence of cultural inputs to support such ideas. The idea is that although we can simulate the loss of perceptual capacities like sight and hearing simply by covering the relevant organs the eyes and the ears , we cannot simulate the absence of thoughts, desires, memories, and so on.

Even people who hold explicitly extinctivist beliefs e. The root of this, Bering argues, is that humans have dedicated cognitive machinery for reasoning about mental states, which, unlike our capacities for reasoning about the mechanical and biological properties of bodies, cannot conceptualize total system failure. For example, participants should be unable to fully appreciate that people lack conscious experiences when under general anesthesia, or that inanimate objects such as carpets and kitchen utensils lack such experiences.

Although we think this is implausible, it is an empirical question whether continuity judgments can be elicited in such scenarios. We note in this connection that recent research on pre life beliefs in Ecuadorian children indicates that, until about 9 to 10 years of age, they ascribe several biological and psychological capacities to their prelife selves; moreover, older children, who ascribe fewer capacities to themselves overall, are still more likely to ascribe certain mental states—in particular, emotional and desire states—to their prelife selves than other mental states e.

Another foundational cognitive predisposition where religion is concerned may be a tendency to favor teleofunctional reasoning. Research by Kelemen and colleagues e. Although it may be tempting to think that this teleological bias is attributable simply to acquisition of a creationist worldview e. If so, this tendency may render notions of intelligent supernatural designers, who have created the world and everything in it for a purpose, especially compelling Kelemen, To the extent that this relational-deictic stance represents a cognitive default, however, it may still serve as a strong foundation for religious cultural notions.

In particular, although we agree with Ojalehto et al. Humans often imitate each other without knowing why—that is, with little or no understanding of how the actions contribute to goals. Causal opacity of this kind is a hallmark feature of ritualized behavior. In rituals, the relationship between actions and stated goals if indeed they are stated at all cannot, even in principle , be specified in physical—causal terms P.

Social anthropologists have often observed that ritual participants are powerless to explain why they carry out their distinctive procedures and ceremonies, appealing only to tradition or the ancestors. Imitation of causally opaque behavior is a distinctively human trait. None of the other great apes shows a marked interest in devising highly stylized procedures and bodily adornments and using these to demarcate and affiliate with cultural groups.

1. The Philosophical Importance of Moral Reasoning

Because rituals lack overt usefulness, most animals would not see any value in copying them. Yet by meticulously conforming to arbitrary social conventions, human groups bind themselves together into cooperative units facilitating cooperation on a scale that is very rare in nature.

From an evolutionary perspective, deriving the benefits of group living requires a means of identifying ingroup members the ones you should cooperate with and out-groups people you should avoid or compete with. One solution is to have a distinctive set of group conventions or rituals of course, there are other means too, e. Indeed, the willingness to copy arbitrary conventions is essential for acquiring language requiring us to accept that arbitrary utterances refer to stable features of the world around us, not because there is a causal relationship between the sound and the thing it refers to, but simply because that is the accepted convention.

Herrmann et al. Inclusive fitness theory predicts that organisms will behave in ways that preferentially benefit kin, with more benefits conferred as the degree of genetic relatedness between the actor and the recipient increases Hamilton, Mechanisms for recognizing and calibrating kinship are critical for such behaviors to evolve and can be classified as one of two broad types: those that exploit direct, phenotypic cues e. According to Lieberman, Tooby, and Cosmides , cues indicative of kinship are taken as input by two separate motivational systems.

As Pinker points out, kin recognition in humans depends on cues in particular, linguistic cues that others can manipulate:. Thus people are also altruistic toward their adoptive relatives, and toward a variety of fictive kin such as brothers in arms, fraternities and sororities, occupational and religious brotherhoods, crime families, fatherlands, and mother countries. These faux families may be created by metaphors, simulacra of family experiences, myths of common descent or common flesh, and other illusions of kinship.

Cultural manipulations of kinship detection machinery may be rife in ritualistic behavior. As Saroglou notes, religious rituals serve to bond ritual participants together. Such rituals may accomplish this, in part, by incorporating a range of kinship cues. First, many religious rituals involve artificial phenotypic cues of kinship—similar costumes, headdress, face paint, and so forth. Second, social synchrony is a key feature of many religious rituals, and has long been hypothesized to promote group cohesion e.


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Recent experimental studies confirm that synchronic movement increases cooperation among participants. For example, Wiltermuth and Heath found that participants who engaged in synchronic behaviors e. Third, the arousal that many rituals generate may function as a contextual cue to kinship.

Xygalatas et al. High-ordeal participants donated significantly more than low-ordeal participants, and higher levels of self-reported pain were associated with greater donations. A key feature of our approach is to consider whether the fractionated components of morality and religion have overlapping evolutionary histories. As noted earlier, just as there are genetically endowed physical structures e. Our fractionating strategy produces a preliminary matrix of at least 25 basic questions at the level of biological evolution e.

In our view, the most plausible cases of biologically evolved connections between the religious and moral foundations involve agency-detection mechanisms and ToM. Likewise, if the limitations of our evolved capacities to simulate mental states, or the absence of such states , triggered intuitions about the continued invisible presence of dead individuals, this would have been incidental.

However, D. Johnson, Bering, and colleagues e. Johnson, ; D. The supposition of moral-foundations theorists is that the various foundations evolved to solve a range of adaptive problems e. The evolution of these various mechanisms would have occasioned a novel set of selection pressures—in particular, the costs associated with being caught violating foundational moral principles.

According to D. Johnson, Bering, and colleagues, the evolution of linguistic and mentalizing capacities would have ramped up these costs, as moral transgressions could be reported to absent third parties, exacerbating reputational damage for the transgressor. The conjunction of these various mechanisms, therefore, may have increased the premium on mechanisms that inhibit moral transgressions.

Johnson, , p. The notion that humans have a genetically endowed propensity to postulate moralizing, punitive supernatural observers is both compelling and controversial. If intuitions about punitive supernatural observers are a biological mechanism for inhibiting moral transgressions, we should expect activation of these intuitions to have the relevant inhibitory effect. In the next section, we review the evidence for this hypothesis. Surveys indicate that people who score higher on indices of religiosity e.

This would render religious individuals more susceptible to social desirability concerns, to which self-report measures of socially desirable behaviors are notoriously vulnerable Paulhus, Some studies have found that a link between self-reported religiosity and self-reported altruism remains even when social desirability concerns are measured and controlled for e.

One limitation of some of these behavioral studies, from a pluralistic moral perspective, is that competing moral motivations are sometimes conflated. For example, given the effect of religious priming on dictator game allocations, one might conclude that such priming activates the care foundation, promoting moral concerns for the well-being of others. An alternative possibility, however, is that the increased giving in the dictator game reflects the activation of the fairness foundation. This might be seen as compelling evidence that fairness concerns were paramount here.

However, although the modal response was to transfer half of the money, some participants in the religious prime condition transferred more than half—strictly speaking, an unfair allocation. A similar issue arises when considering the study of Pichon et al. These authors found that participants primed with positive religion words e. One might conclude that religious priming or, at least, positive religious priming had activated compassion for the disadvantaged.

Notwithstanding these interpretive complexities, the results of religious priming studies, taken together, would seem to indicate that religious priming promotes adherence to moral norms. Nevertheless, the picture may be more complicated than this, as other studies have shown that religious priming also elicits a range of aggressive and prejudicial behaviors. Saroglou, Corneille, and Van Cappellen found that religiously primed participants encouraged by the experimenter to exact revenge on an individual who had allegedly criticized them were more vengeful than those given neutral primes.

Van Pachterbeke, Freyer, and Saroglou found that religiously primed participants displayed support for impersonal societal norms even when upholding such norms would harm individuals the effects reported by Saroglou et al. And Ginges et al. One might suppose that the effects of such priming on aggression and prejudice count against the hypothesis that intuitions about supernatural observers inhibit moral norm violations. But without knowing what participants perceive as the relevant norm, this is difficult to establish. For example, in the Bushman et al. There are other reasons to doubt that religious priming studies demonstrate that activating intuitions about punitive supernatural agents curbs moral infractions.

The effect of the secular primes, they suggest, is more consistent with the behavioral priming explanation. Similar considerations apply to a study by Mazar et al. More recently, Ma-Kellams and Blascovich found that even primes of science e. It remains to be demonstrated, however, that the perception that one is observed is what mediates the effect of the primes on behavior.

It is possible that religious priming might activate both surveillance concerns and moral concepts, but that only the latter influence game behavior. Earlier we mentioned methods that potentially conflate distinct moral motivations e. Jesus preached the latter e. If supernatural primes activate concerns for fairness, then primed participants should be more likely to punish violations of fairness norms.

If, on the other hand, such primes stimulate kindness, then participants may be less likely to engage in such punishment. We found that religious primes strongly increased the costly punishment of unfair behaviors for a subset of our participants—those who had previously donated to a religious organization.

This finding seems consistent with the notion that supernatural agency concepts promote fairness and its enforcement, although, as this study did not disambiguate agency and moral dimensions along the lines suggested earlier, it may be that the effect here was a result of behavioral priming of moral behavior in this case, punishment of unfair behavior rather than activation of supernatural agent concepts. Another problem is that different idiosyncratic conceptions of God e. When possible, therefore, priming studies should attempt to measure idiosyncratic conceptions of God e. Overall, we think that religious priming studies provide at least tentative evidence that activating intuitions about supernatural agents curbs moral norm violations.

But what of the intuitions themselves? If intuitions about such supernatural punishers are properly foundational , they should be culturally and historically widespread. However, Baumard and Boyer a note that the gods of numerous classical traditions e. Although these considerations may seem to refute any suggestion that moralizing, punitive supernatural agents are historically and cross-culturally universal, recent work suggests that even when gods are not explicitly represented as caring about human morality, there is nevertheless a moral undercurrent beneath the surface of such explicit, reflective representations Purzycki, In any case, as Graham et al.

Cultural influences may restrict the expression of innate cognitive tendencies, just as they can restrict the expression of innate physical propensities e. However, Graham and colleagues also note that not all cultures are equally informative when it comes to establishing foundationhood. For example, the Hadza of northern Tanzania and the! Kung of the Kalahari Desert are contemporary hunter—gatherer societies with gods who take little interest in human wrongdoing Norenzayan, In our judgment, therefore, it is unlikely that our evolved cognitive systems produce stable intuitions about omnipresent supernatural punishers.

What we think more plausible is that we have a genetically endowed sensitivity to situational cues that our behavior is being observed. A burgeoning literature indicates that even very subtle cues of surveillance influence adherence to prevailing moral norms. In contrast to these studies, Raihani and Bshary found that dictators donated less money in the presence of eye images.

However, these authors only analyzed mean donations, and not the probability of donating something however small. Nettle et al. Bateson, Nettle, and colleagues have found similar effects using an image of a pair of eyes on a notice in naturalistic settings. Bateson, Nettle, and Roberts found that, compared with images of flowers, eye images substantially increased the level of contributions to an honesty box in a psychology department tea room; and Ernest-Jones, Nettle, and Bateson found that similar images halved the odds of littering in a university cafeteria.

Bourrat, Baumard, and McKay found that such images led to greater condemnation of moral infractions. Relatedly, Cavrak and Kleider-Offutt recently found that participants exposed to religious images associated with a prominent supernatural agent e. Finally, there is evidence that experimental cues of anonymity rather than of surveillance e. The upshot of all this work is that evolved agency-detection mechanisms may serve to deliver intuitions about observing agents and to regulate our behavior in the presence of those agents.

We doubt, however, that such mechanisms deliver intuitions about moralizing, punitive supernatural agents—instead, we think that the relevant intuitions are more basic just concerning the presence of agency per se. And drawing on intuitions about fairness and the psychological characteristics of intentional agents ToM , such supernatural watcher concepts may morph into more complex, compelling, and culturally transmissible notions of moralizing gods—notions which, when made salient or activated as in priming studies , serve to promote adherence to the perceived norms of those gods.

What this highlights is that we can often make no principled distinction between religion and morality at the level of culture or cognition. Our aim here has been to pinpoint some of the major features in the religious and moral constellations. Recall the analogy drawn earlier between the properties of a hands and gloves, and b evolved cognitive systems and explicit cultural representations. Whereas hands are biologically evolved features of human anatomy, gloves are culturally evolved artifacts that must follow the contours of the hand at least to some extent in order to be wearable.

In this section, we ask whether, in a similar fashion, culturally evolved belief systems must follow the contours of our evolved cognitive systems. Moreover, from the perspective of our concern with the religion—morality relationship, do cultural systems create durable connections between the moral and religious foundations depicted in Figure 2? In posing these particular questions, we do not mean to suggest that the direction of causality must always run from religion to morality. In considering these questions, one might seek to supplement the examples in Figure 2 with further examples plucked from the ethnographic record.

Although time-consuming, such an exercise would undoubtedly be instructive in many ways. It would indicate, for example, whether—and how—cultural systems from diverse regions of the world are capable of connecting moral and religious foundations in a variety of ways. It would not, however, address the deeper question of why they do so. Established in the early s and spreading to encompass scores of villages in some of the more remote regions of the island, the movement has a centralized leadership, based at a large coastal settlement, from which regular patrols to outlying villages are sent, bringing news, collecting taxes, and policing the orthodoxy.

The mainstream Kivung exhibits all the fractionated elements of our intuitive religious repertoire: hyperactive agency detection, ToM, teleofunctional reasoning, the ritual stance, and group psychology. And it connects each of these elements to our five moral foundations care, fairness, loyalty, respect, and purity. At the heart of Kivung teachings is the idea that the ancestors of followers will someday soon return from the dead, bringing with them all the wonders of Western technology.

Until that day, however, the ancestors exist only as bodiless agents, discernible by the sounds they make and the traces they leave behind. Failures to observe the laws of the Kivung are said to delay the miracle of returning ancestors. Only when a certain moral threshold has been achieved will the living and the dead be reunited. This dogma connects with all our moral foundations because the Kivung laws, adapted from the Ten Commandments as taught by Catholic missionaries in the region, forbid such a broad range of transgressions as violence and slander harming , cheating and stealing fairness , criticizing the Kivung loyalty , disobedience respect , and cooking during menses purity.

Kivung ideas about ancestors not only link up our moral foundations but also weave intricate connections through discourse and ritual between each of our religious foundations. For example, among the many rituals observed by Kivung followers is the daily laying out of food offerings to the ancestors. Great attention is paid to the noises of ancestors entering the temple e.

This simple ritual requires intense concentration, as it is said that if the ancestors detect insincerity telepathically , they will withhold their forgiveness. Teleofunctional reasoning meanwhile is a pervasive feature of Kivung origin myths and various rituals associated with the sacred gardens one of which memorializes a Melanesian Eden. And lastly, the Kivung activates group psychology by creating familial ties based on shared ritual experiences and coalitional bonds via us—them thinking in relation to external detractors and critics. In the end, however, it constitutes a question about how , rather than why , cultural systems create connections between moral and religious foundations.

To address the why, we need to consider issues of function and ultimate causation. Two contrasting positions on the why of the morality—religion relationship in cultural evolution have achieved some prominence in recent years. One takes the form of adaptationist arguments concerning the emergence and spread of routinized rituals and moralizing gods. The other argues that all cultural traditions, however they trace or fail to trace the connections between moral and religious foundations, are by-products of cognitive predispositions and biases, rather than cultural adaptations that enhance the fitness of individuals or groups.

We briefly review these alternative positions and consider what evidence would be required to adjudicate satisfactorily between the two. Scholars in the cognitive science of religion tend to agree that many globally and historically recurrent features of religious thinking and behavior are by-products of cognitive machinery that evolved for reasons that have nothing to do with religion e. Barrett, ; Bloom, ; Boyer, For example, HADDs are thought to have evolved to help support the detection of predators and prey.

If they also undergirded intuitions about the presence of bodiless agents, then this was originally a side effect by-product of their main function J. Barrett, , , To express this in terms of our body—clothing analogy, if HADDs were equivalent to the evolved anatomy of the hand, then the accumulated cultural knowledge of expert trackers and hunters would be equivalent to the protective functions of gloves, essential for survival in very cold climates. But gloves can also have decorative frills, like bobbles and tassels, which have no particular survival value.

Cultural representations concerning bodiless agents would be decorative frills of this kind. As such, these kinds of functionally superfluous additions need not follow the contour of the hand at all—and might derive their popular appeal precisely from the fact that they do not. Conceivably, the cultural success of certain Christian ideals e. What distinguishes the adaptationist perspective on religion, however, is the view that at least some of these religious by-products became useful for the survival of individuals and groups in the course of cultural evolution. Most commonly, this argument has been applied to the growth of large-scale societies.

Humans evolved to live in face-to-face bands of hunter—gatherers rather than in vast empires or nations. Small group psychology, it has been argued, would have been insufficient to handle many of the challenges of large group living. Religion provided cultural adaptations to support the transition from foraging to farming, from local community to state formation.

One line of adaptationist thinking has focused on the role of ritual frequency in this transition Whitehouse, We consider each of these approaches in turn. One of the major challenges in understanding how and why religion changes as societies become larger and more complex relates to the changing structure and function of ritual. As conditions permitted an escalation of the scale and complexity of human societies, cultural evolutionary processes may have further tuned the elements of ritual, promoting social cohesion.

With the evolution of social complexity, religious rituals become more routinized, dysphoric rituals become less widespread, doctrine and narrative becomes more standardized, beliefs become more universalistic, religion becomes more hierarchical, offices more professionalized, sacred texts help to codify and legitimate emergent orthodoxies, and religious guilds increasingly monopolize resources Whitehouse, , Some of these patterns have recently been documented quantitatively using large samples of religious traditions from the ethnographic record.

Instead, the much more frequent rituals typical of regional and world religions sustain forms of group identification better suited to the kinds of collective action problems presented by interactions among strangers or socially more distant individuals Whitehouse, As rituals become more routinized, however, they also become less stimulating emotionally, and perhaps even more tedious Whitehouse, As some societies became ever larger and more complex, even the processes described here may not have been sufficient to sustain cooperation and a host of new cultural adaptations—most notably, forms of external information storage and secular institutions of governance—became increasingly important Mullins et al.

With the emergence of agriculture and larger, more complex social formations, strangers or relative strangers needed to be able to assess their respective reputational statuses when biographical information was not readily available. The signaling theory of religion and ritual has been recently extended by the theory of credibility enhancing displays CREDS; Henrich, By engaging in costly behaviors, rather than merely advocating such behavior in others i.

This is thought to facilitate the spread of moral norms across large populations and safeguard their transmission across the generations. CREDS theory seeks to explain not only the wide distribution of moral norms in the so-called ethical religions but also the prevalence of moral exemplars in such traditions e. One of the most vigorous debates in the recent literature on religion and morality has concerned the cultural prevalence of moralizing gods—powerful supernatural agents who monitor behavior and punish moral infractions.

Ara Norenzayan and colleagues e. In small-scale and traditional societies in which everybody knows everyone else and most social behavior is easily observed and reported, transgressions are easily detected. Modern technologies of surveillance, such as police cameras, identity cards, and computer records, allow increasingly extensive monitoring of thieves, cheats, defectors, and free riders by designated authorities. Norenzayan et al. In contrast, Baumard and Boyer a argue incisively that the cultural prevalence of moralizing god representations does not result from the fact that such representations promote socially cohesive behaviors among human groups.

Instead, these representations are successful because they have features e. In short, moralizing gods are cultural variants with effects that enhance their own success and so are adaptive in that sense; Dennett, , but these effects do not include changes in the biological or cultural fitness of their human vectors. How are we to evaluate these opposing views? One feature of Norenzayan et al. As we have seen, a wealth of evidence from priming studies indicates that the activation of supernatural concepts can promote adherence to moral norms. Do the latter studies undermine the hypothesis of Norenzayan and colleagues?

On the contrary, they may be aggressive, murderous, and even genocidal. It is less clear that these findings are consistent with Baumard and Boyer a. The latter authors claim that the success of moralizing god concepts is entirely a result of the resonance of these concepts with the output of intuitive systems, so their theory does not require that these concepts have any effects whatsoever on behavior. Any such effects are incidental and superfluous from their perspective. They then converted to Christianity, a moralizing religion, and were promptly crushed by barbarians with tribal, nonmoralizing gods.

As they acknowledge, however, the gods of antiquity were represented as monitoring the appropriate performance of rituals. To the extent that rituals represent or promote moral behaviors see earlier , therefore, gods that care about rituals care about morality, directly or indirectly. We note in this connection that common components of ritual performance may facilitate parochially altruistic behaviors, including aggression e.

The relationship between religion and morality is a deep and emotive topic. The confident pronouncements of public commentators belie the bewildering theoretical and methodological complexity of the issues. In the scholarly sphere, progress is frequently impeded by a series of prevailing conceptual limitations and lacunae. We have set out an encompassing evolutionary framework within which to situate and evaluate relevant evidence. Our view is that cultural representations—concepts, dogmas, artefacts, and practices both prescribed and proscribed—are triggered, shaped, and constrained by a variety of foundational cognitive systems.

We have sought to identify the most currently plausible conjectures about biologically evolved connections between these systems, and have reviewed and evaluated the most prominent published debates in the cultural evolutionary domain. Ultimately, we see and foresee no pithily characterizable relationship between religion and morality. Second, under the pluralistic approach we advocate, which fractionates both religion and morality and distinguishes cognition from culture, the relationship between religion and morality expands into a matrix of separate relationships between fractionated elements.

Although we eschew a simplistic story, we live in a very exciting time for psychological research on this topic. The aim should be to settle upon a parsimonious set of culturally and historically widespread cognitive predispositions that exhibit developmental and comparative evidence of innate preparedness, and that jointly account for the great bulk of culturally distributed items falling under the umbrella of religion and morality.

On the one hand, morality may require God in the sense that the very notion of morality is incoherent without God i. This is what Socrates had in mind and disputed. On the other hand, morality may require God in the sense that belief in God is needed to enforce moral behavior.

This is what Dostoevsky meant. Cohen and colleagues e. Cohen, ; A. Some religions e. The point that scientific research on religion should consider all four whys has been eloquently made by Hinde and informs his writings on religion more generally e. This lesson is particularly important when considering evidence germane to the religion—morality debate. Although they found a positive relationship between intensity of religiosity and altruism in the dictator game, they acknowledged that the causality of this relationship could have run from altruism to religiosity, or that unobserved third variables may have influenced both altruism and religiosity.

The second player has a completely passive role which is why the dictator game is not, strictly speaking, a game and must accept whatever the first player transfers. In a public goods game, players privately choose how much of an endowment to donate to a public pot. For example, punishment of unfairness has been associated both with self-control e. At present, there is no official moral foundation of self-control.

And thanks to God for it.