Re: [asa] The Neurology of Morality and the Politics of Science

From: Jack <>
Date: Mon Mar 26 2007 - 23:03:12 EDT

First of all, I think David's comments in the second paragraph is exactly the point of the article, those with damage in the vetromedial prefrontal cortex would not have an emotional component to the decision.

But there is another aspect of this that is not just related to feeling squeamish, or being disgusted by the gore. And that other aspect is relational. In other words, even if the person is a complete stranger, you have some kind of relationship, however brief, before you push him on the tracks. You see the person, you touch the person, it is a real person that dies in front of you, not some hypothetical people down the line that you have never seen or touched.

And David you might be glad to know that you are a typical male in this response. There was a study done years ago with school age boys and girls. I dont have the reference if front of me. But in this study students were given a scenario, probably similar to this one, and they compared the responses from the boys and the girls. The conclusion of the study was that there was a consistent difference between the girls and the boys, girls made moral decisions based on relationships, and boys made moral decisions based on rules.

So maybe what damage in this area does is remove the relational component of moral decisions. Or in other words, damage in this area of the brain keeps us from being in touch with our feminine side. ;)
  ----- Original Message -----
  From: David Opderbeck
  To: D. F. Siemens, Jr.
  Sent: Monday, March 26, 2007 8:19 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] The Neurology of Morality and the Politics of Science

  Interesting. I think the hypothetical expressly assumes that throwing the person in front of the train will stop it -- maybe the engineer hits the emergency brake or something. I've not seen any primary social science research that actually explains how the thought experiment is constructed.

  Personally, I feel more squeamish about throwing a person in front of the train than about throwing the switch, even though the body count is the same. But I think this has more to do with what I would anticipate observing rather than with the comparative morality of the two actions. All else being equal, I'd rather not see the gore. Moreover, there's a utilitarian aspect to that feeling as well, because I'm pretty sure that kind of scene would haunt me forever. The utility is the same either way for the other people involved, but on balance my utility is better served by not having to see the results first-hand.

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Received on Mon Mar 26 23:03:36 2007

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