Abstract: Joshua Greene argues that ordinary moral judgment results from the interaction of two distinct neural subsystems which generate competing moral intuitions. One subsystem generates consequentialist intuitions and the other generates deontological intuitions. Greene suggests that our faculty for generating deontological intuitions developed in response to an evolutionary need to suppress ‘up close and personal’ harmful acts within communities and when such acts are under consideration deontological intuitions tend to predominate in moral judgment. When ‘up close and personal harms’ are not under consideration consequentialist intuitions tend to predominate. A key problem with this account is that many deontological strictures (e.g. ‘though shalt not lie’) are meant to apply beyond the range of the ‘up close and personal’. Here, I seek to defend Greene’s account of the evolutionary origins of deontological moral intuition in the face of this problem, showing how it can be supplemented with an account of the ways in which social organisations can expand the scope of deontological moral judgment. The social organisations that are most effective in expanding the scope of deontological moral judgment are religious institutions. I’ll show why this is so, drawing on Durkheim’s account of the sacred. I’ll also consider the consequentialist normative arguments that Greene and Peter Singer build on Greene’s descriptive account of moral judgment.
Bio: Steve Clarke is a James Martin Research Fellow in the Institute for Science and Ethics and is a named researcher on the AHRC funded project ‘Science and Religious Conflict’. He is on leave from the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics in Australia (until 2012) where he is a Senior Research Fellow. He holds a PhD in Philosophy from Monash University and has previously held appointments at the University of Melbourne, the University of Cape Town and La Trobe University. Steve is a broad-ranging philosopher who has published in such journals as The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Synthese, Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Philosophical Psychology, Philosophy and Technology and the Journal of Risk Research.