Josh May is an ethicist and cognitive scientist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (officially, Professor of Philosophy and Psychology). He grew up and went to college near Sacramento in California, where he developed a penchant for ethical issues and the power of ideas. After doing a PhD in philosophy at UC Santa Barbara, he taught for two years on the other side of the globe at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Now he enjoys teaching in the Deep South where Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous letter from a Birmingham jail while fighting for civil rights.
Most of Dr. May’s research draws on scientific evidence to better understand moral controversies and social change. He addresses questions such as:
- Why are moral disagreements so difficult to resolve?
- How can we make moral progress on important societal issues like climate change, factory farming, addiction, and mental illness?
- Does neuroscience show that free will is an illusion or that we shouldn’t trust our gut feelings in ethics and politics?
To answer such questions, he draws heavily on findings in cognitive science, some of which he has generated himself or in collaboration with other scientists. Dr. May’s book Neuroethics: Agency in the Age of Brain Science (Oxford University Press, 2023) argues that human agency and mental health are diverse and flexible. And in Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind (Oxford University Press, 2018) he argues that reasoning plays a fundamental role in moral thought and action. His research articles have appeared in publications like the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Behavioral & Brain Sciences, Cognition, Journal of Medical Ethics, Mind & Language, Neuroethics, Philosophical Studies, and Synthese.
Dr. May’s public-facing work includes articles for newspapers and magazines, such as The Boston Globe, WBUR’s Cognoscenti, Psyche, The Prindle Post, and The Birmingham News. He has given interviews about moral changes of heart and the ethics of cultured meat. And he has written blog posts about human cloning, biased reasoning, and moral disagreement.
Although Dr. May’s PhD is in philosophy, he has also trained in the social and behavioral sciences. In addition to a Summer Seminar in Neuroscience and Philosophy at Duke University, he spent a few years on a fellowship completing the coursework for the PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience at UAB and joining the Cognition, Brain, and Autism lab at the University of Alabama.
When not reading, writing, or teaching, he likes to get away from the computer and climb rocks, play guitar, hike in the forest, look at birds, cook mostly vegetarian food, or spend time with his wonderful daughter.
Here’s the latest copy of his Curriculum Vitae (PDF).