Moral Psychology Essay

Prof. Fincke PH250 December 13, 2012 Moral Psychology Introduction: People throughout history and diverse cultures have long debated over what deems our decisions, actions, and Judgments right, wrong, good, or evil. Moral Psychology is a field that is at a crossroads within the fields of psychology and philosophy in the debate between good and bad. One of the ways Moral Psychology tries to define our moral Judgments is through arguing that they are reasoned by our basic, human emotions.

Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist from Claremont Graduate University argues that as humans, we base our Judgments of good and evil through ur natural inclination towards empathy (Zak, “Moral Sentiments in the Brain”). Zak’s research “not only found that moral sentiments are real and measurable, but [was] been able to manipulate these mechanisms in human brains to cause people to be moral in the lab” (Zak) by infusing subjects with a synthetic version of a chemical already in the body called oxytocin.

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Moreover, “By changing participants’ neurologic states using oxytocin… we showed that we could directly cause them to be virtuous… ” (Zak). Paul Zak is one of many scientists who have tried to develop a concrete reasoning behind the ethical concerns of human behavior. From a philosophical perspective, it stands to reason that it is common for people to behave in such ways that benefit the lives of others, even if it is costly to their own wellbeing. But at least since Plato’s classic discussion in the second book of The Republic, debate has raged over why people behave in this way’ (Doris & Stitch: “Moral Psychology: Empirical Approaches”). Do people truly behave altruistically, or is it merely a reflection of self-interest? Both aforementioned studies give rise to this question: Is moral Judgment specifically a factor of automatic responses such as motion, or is there something deeper rooted in the morality behind human behavior, such as altruism.

Controversy 1: (2A) The latter part of the 20th century had brought about a “reawakening of philosophical interest in the emotions” (Oakley 1). This interest gave rise to even more evidence that moral Judgment has a strong tie to intuitive emotional responses: “Concerning the roles of intuition, the research of Kohlberg and others indicates a truly astonishing regularity in the development of explicit moral theories and their application to particular dilemmas” (Doris 48). People react differently in different ituations, depending on how personal that situation is.

For example, causing harm can trigger a more intuitive emotional response as opposed to letting the harm happen, without having direct influence. For example, in the “… switch dilemma, a runway trolley threatens to run over and kill five people” (49). Is it fair to say that one is allowed to pull a switch that redirects the trolley in the direction of one person, killing that one person and conversely saving the lives of the aforementioned five? In general, most people say that this is the moral thing to do, taking a consequentialist

Here, one person is standing next to a larger person on a footbridge spanning the tracks, in between the oncoming trolley and the five. In this case, the only way to save the five is to push the large person off of the footbridge and into the trolleys path, killing him, but preventing the trolley from killing the five. (You can’t stop the trolley yourself because you’re not big enough to do so. ) (50). In this case, most people surveyed portrayed the opposite reaction, saying that this was morally wrong and unacceptable. Interestingly enough, these people demonstrated a deontological standpoint.

It seems, in the cases, moral Judgment stems from the emotional response conveyed from the more personal situation of directly harming someone (50). (2B) Joshua D. Greene is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University that studies moral Judgments through behavioral experiments and fMRI brain imaging (ix). Greene and his colleagues “proposed that… the harming of someone in a ‘personal’ way, as in the footbridge dilemma, triggers a negative emotional response” (50) that informs the person the action is morally wrong.

Emotions can exert a powerful force on human behavior. However, emotion is ot something simple, it is “a complex which involves dynamically related elements of cognition, desire, and [a dimension of] affectivity’ (Oakley 6). In other words, emotion is a system operating through thoughts, a coveted sense of pleasure, and internal feelings. Moral assessments are often linked to emotion. “For instance, love, care, and sympathy are commonly thought good, while hatred, resentment, and malice are thought bad” (40).

Oakley argues: We may disagree over how to explicate the notion of feelings being ‘in proportion’ to a situation, and there may be a problem, parallel to that… in egard to moral assessments of emotions, with assessing emotions for rationality in terms of only one or two of their constitutive elements (i. e. cognition, desires, and affects), rather than all three taken together. (40). In other words, the way we explain emotions as rational becomes different throughout different situations, and, sometimes, they may be formulated out of cognition, affect and desire separately.

For example, without the proper function of the medial prefrontal cortex, the brain is unable to play its functional, cognitive role in formulating the rationality of a situation. As in the famous case of Phineas Gage, “the ineteenth-century railroad foreman whose moral behavior became severely disordered after a tragic accident sent a metal tamping iron through his eye socket out of the top of his head” (Doris 51). (2C)From philosophical standpoint, the personalist approach “holds a more holistic perspective. She holds that morally worthy action stems from good character” (77).

A morally good character wants to act good for the simple sake of being good, has a natural and emotional outlook on being good, and responds to others emotions and desires with genuinely good actions (77). According to the personalist: “… Morally worthy action begins with knowledge. This knowledge… is likely to be retained through a combination of moral heuristics (lying is generally a bad idea, generosity does not require even-handedness and so on) and a learned sensitivity to particular sorts of situations… ” (77). This knowledge guides moral individuals in the path of doing what is right, without question.

A moral form virtue, courage, and honesty. The personalist theory of emotion as moral motivation is contrary to the aforementioned theory of emotion because, the personalist involves a whole moral character, whereas the previous suggests actions annot be morally motivated unless they are driven solely by emotion. For the personalist, “implicit knowledge of the good, explicit knowledge of heuristics, perceptually driven Judgments of the differences between apparently similar situations??”all of these can be expected to be realized in perceptual and higher cognitive centers, and can all be expected to feed into motivational systems” (89).

The brain has a system that constitutes the basis for moral Judgment. Most likely, it is the internal structures of the basal ganglia that receive the input from the personlists erception and relative emotion, which then sends the output of motivation (89). Personalists have a strong sense of moral intuition, “a strong, stable, immediate moral belief” (246) that lets them truly know what they are doing is morally right. (2D) There have been many studies to prove (and disprove) both of the previously stated situations.

Immanuel Kant was a philosopher who strongly argued against the validity of emotions as moral motives: A central claim of Kant’s ethics is that only acts [that] are done from duty have moral worth, and in the course of arguing for this claim Kant explicitly sserts that, apart from one important exception, motivation by emotion cannot be morally good. (Oakley 86). According to Kant, one must adhere to the rules of duty whether or not those rules lead to a greater good. A perfect duty is something that is done at all times, it is something that is done at all times.

Therefore, emotions cannot be rational because they are not morally consistent. However, according to Richard Henson, “if we perform a dutiful act from emotion, or with [emotions cooperating the duty], instead of from duty, this is not morally defective, it is Just that uch an act has no moral worth” (91). This is to say that acting from emotion does not go against morality; it Just has no moral worth in Kant’s perspective. It is much more enticing to think of morality in terms of having a virtuous character.

Though emotions can play a big role in Judgment, wanting to do the right thing solely for the purpose of it being good seems more rational. However, someone whose character is flawed may be seen through vices. For example, one who favors himself in unjust ways, so as to harm himself is a vice, while someone who is virtuous in his character takes a ealthy interest in himself. Also, there are a wide variety of characteristics listed as virtues, as seen in the theories of both Aristotle and Nietzsche. (2E)The way people respond to morally conflicting situations come in a variety of different forms.

I personally stand by the argument of emotions playing the eminent role in moral judgment. As a psychology major, I am interested in human development and behavior. I believe as individuals we all experience the world differently, and that there cannot be a universal truth to how someone should behave and what they should believe in. Each person is built differently; no brain looks the same in any given structure. We are shaped by the world around us: That is the beauty of humanity and culture. If we all behaved the same and held the same beliefs, there would be no diversity, there would no individualism.

It is natural for each person to believe they are right in a given situation; we all live by our own truths and badness; everything is expressive in a sense to have others share your same viewpoint. C. L. Stevenson, an emotivist, argues that there is no universal truth to a matter; there are Just emotional expressions. One can persuade another into their beliefs when that person already shares similar emotions and interests. They can give them objective reasons in order to have them agree with the initial expression. I agree that, in terms of having a virtuous character that the knowledge of good comes from experience.

As toddlers, experiencing things first hand is how we learn what-to and what-not to do. We learn that some things lead to positive outcomes and some do not. I believe the same stands for morality??”even if something we do leads to personal pleasure, will it cause harm to another? As Glaucon argues in Plato’s The Republic, if it does not lead to another’s benefit, it is not intrinsically good. Controversy 2: (3A) In terms of evolutionary theory, an organism is altruistic if and only if the behavior in question harms its own fitness while giving rise to the fitness of another organism.

An organism’s fitness is a measure of how many descendants it will have (Doris & Stitch: “Moral Psychology: Empirical Approaches”). On this evolutionary account of altruism, an organism can be altruistic even if it does not have the mental capacity of having beliefs and desires. In Moral Psychology however, the subject of altruism is seldom spoken about on its own. For years, there has been an ongoing debate between how genuinely moral a person can be and if that genuine behavior is simply a reflection of self-interest. This is the altruism vs. egoism debate.

According to some philosophers, Moral behavior is, at the most general level, altruistic behavior, motivated by the desire to promote not only our own welfare but, [also] the welfare of others. One central assumption motivating ethical theory… is the function of ethics to combat the inherent egoism or selfishness of individuals. Indeed many thinkers define the basic goal of morality as “selfishness” or “altruism. ” (Doris 148). If these philosophers are correct in their argument, and human behavior merely a reflection of egoism, we as human face this question: “what is the point of being moral? It is question that might have us turn our backs to moral motivation. In other words, “if egoism is true, then there may as well be a [disconnection] between moral theory and moral motivation” (149), because the best moral theories are those that motivate us to do the right thing. Many scientists, especially those in the field of sychology, have done a number of studies revolving around the given issues of egoism and altruism in the sense of proving the significance of one or the other. (3B) Sober and Wilson make a clear distinction in altruism through evolutionary altruism and psychological altruism (154).

In psychological altruism, “an organism is psychologically altruistic if and only if it has ultimate desires for the wellbeing of others,” (154) while a behavior is psychologically altruistic if it is motivated by through the organisms desires. Contrarily, a behavior is evolutionarily altruistic if it lessens its own fitness while increasing that of another’s. Charles Darwin argues that the origin of morality comes from nature, and that “It is certain associated animals have a feeling of love for each other, which is not felt by non-social adult animals. Kinship altruism is a theory developed by W. D. Hamilton that explains the both the for out-of-group members of the environment. In society, people usually identify with those most similar to them and are skeptic towards others??”hence the several accounts of brutal hate crimes recorded throughout history between different races and cultures. However, there are also a growing number of several accounts of ifferent cultures fusing together and nations are much more civilized with each other than before.

Hamilton states that “genes leading to costly helping behavior will tend to spread throughout a population, provided that the recipients of the help are relatives, since this sort of helping behavior increases the number of copies of those genes that will be found in future generations” (Doris & Stitch: “Moral Psychology: Empirical Approaches”). In other words, for those willing to sacrifice themselves for their kin, that self-sacrificing gene will get reproduced throughout the species.

In ature, there are plenty of instances of altruistic behaviors even towards out-group members, for example, Mackie’s argument for the “sucker birds” that remove parasites from other birds without expecting anything in return. (3C) Some scientists argue that “[kin] selection may well have led to the evolution of a psychological mechanism that generates ultimate desires to adhere to locally prevailing customs or practices” (Doris & Stitch: “Moral Psychology: Empirical Approaches”), which leads us to psychological altruism.

According to Daniel Batson, a psychologist that has studied the empathy-altruism hypothesis for many years, mpathy “includes feeling sympathetic, compassionate, warm, softhearted, tender, and the like, and according the empathy-altruism hypothesis, it evokes altruistic motivation” (171). Batson has come to this conclusion through a variety of different experiments, and argues that in order for someone to experience empathy, it is necessary for him or her to take the other person’s perspective. In other words, “imagining how that person is affected by his or her situation… nd adopting the needy person’s perspective seems to be a necessary condition” (173). Many other psychologists have tested this hypothesis: Scotland (1969) showed that subjects who were instructed to imagine how a target person felt when undergoing what subjects believed to be a painful medical procedure reported stronger feelings of empathy and showed a greater physiological arousal than subjects who were instructed to watch the target person’s movements. (172) The empathy-altruism hypothesis states that experiencing empathy has an ultimate desire to help the target person in need.

However, it is important to note; “the empathy-altruism hypothesis does not predict that agents who feel empathy will always help the target” (175). What it proposes is hat the person experiencing empathy genuinely wants to reduce the suffering of its target. However, it is also important to note that people who do not experience empathy will not want to help someone in need, since the desire to help can be evoked by other feelings or processes that do not relate to empathy (175). 3D) Evolutionary altruism is a strong argument in moral psychology because it explains morality in a way that can account for all organisms, not Just humans and more developed animals, like primates. However, Evolutionary altruism poses a major puzzle for evolutionary theorists, since f an organism’s evolutionary altruistic behavior is heritable, we might expect altruistic behavior with genes that did not foster evolutionary altruistic behavior, and thus the evolutionary altruistic behavior would disappear. (155).

In other words, biologists believe evolutionary altruism is something that is highly unlikely to have evolved in species like that of our own overtime due to our reproductive traits. More specifically, they believe any behavior deemed altruistic, is not really altruistic after all. In the words of biologist Michael Ghiselin, “Scratch an ‘altruist’ and watch a ‘hypocrite’ bleed” (155). The empathy-altruism hypothesis gives a good example on how altruistic behavior comes from the desire to help someone in need. However, it does not solve the dispute between egoism vs. ltruism and whether the ultimate desire to help someone actually stems from self-interest. In terms of egoists, they do not deny that people help others; “there is a variety of alternatives egoistic alternatives by which empathy might lead to helping behavior without generating the ultimate desire to help” (175). For example, it may be that when someone experiences empathy, they Jointly experience an unpleasant feeling, hich motivates them to help the person in distress, relieving them from the unpleasant experience. This is known as the aversive-arousal reduction hypothesis (175).

Also, there are many instances regarding reward and punishment in seemingly altruistic behavior. Perhaps failing to help may make them feel bad about themselves, leading them to perform altruistic behaviors, though in reality, they are not altruistic at all (175). (BE) Doing research on altruistic behavior was especially interesting for me. Altruism has always been a fascinating subject for me, especially as I started to delve into the field of psychology. There are obviously a variety of people in the world, stemming from different societies, races, and cultures.

However, I had always held the notion that among all of these differences, there are “good” people and there are “bad” people. In terms of good, that is, before I learned more about the psychology and philosophical theories behind it, I meant people that truly and genuinely seek to help other people; no ulterior motives involved. Then, as I began to take more psychology classes, especially those along the lines of social theory, I started to realize that maybe there is always an ulterior motive behind anting to help someone.

For example, in evolutionary altruism, acting in altruistic behavior leads to the furthering of a species through kinship and natural selection. Even in the “tit-for-tat” strategy, In which an organism helps on the first appropriate opportunity and then helps on subsequent opportunities if and only if the partner helped on the previous appropriate opportunity. They showed that tit-for-tat would be favored by natural selection over many other strategies, including a purely selfish strategy of never offering help but always accepting it. (Doris & Stitch: “Moral Psychology: Empirical Approaches”).

In psychological altruism, there are many counter-arguments surrounding the empathy-altruism hypothesis. The hypothesis resonated with me because experiencing empathy motivates me to help the suffering individual. However, one of the counter-arguments that struck me the most was the one that stated that perhaps we are motivated to help only because we want to get rid of the aversive feeling that accompanies empathy. In short, all I can say is that both theories surrounding altruism make sense to me. Conclusion how human beings should be expected to act when faced with moral dilemmas.

In he emotional theory, when people are faced with difficult situations, they react through emotional responses that help them determine whether something is right, wrong, good, or bad. However, in a philosophical standpoint, a moral person is someone with a moral character, where they obtain knowledge of what is good through experience and natural emotion, motivating them to make the right moral judgments. Altruism is a complex subject. It could be explained through evolution as well as psychologically. However, with the many conclusions drawn from each altruistic theory, neither of them can fully explain the question of egoism.

Personally, I believe that humans are extremely complex individuals, and that trying to solve the issues of morality could be a never-ending task. I find the readings overall very enticing and I know that I will continue to read about this topic. Furthermore, as I have mentioned before, people do things for different reasons. Maybe there are people that respond to situations solely because of emotion, or maybe they do have a genuinely moral character. Perhaps we only behave in altruistic behaviors because of the evolutionary process, or perhaps feelings of empathy motivate us to help the needy.

For all we know, we are all egoists, trying to satisfy every inch of our personal needs. Whatever the case may be??”we do things for our own reasons, and that is what makes us who we are, it is what us different, it is what makes us, us. Bibliography Doris, John M. , and Fiery Cushman. The Moral Psychology Handbook. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print. Doris, John and Stich, Stephen, “Moral Psychology: Empirical Approaches”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed. ), forthcoming URL = . Oakley, Justin. Morality and the Emotions. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.


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