My research addresses questions at the intersection of ethics and cognitive science, in an effort to understand the development, breakdown, and improvement of moral knowledge and virtue.
I focus both on contemporary moral issues (e.g., animal welfare, LGBTQ rights, genetic enhancement) and more ordinary interactions with others (e.g., honesty, charity, altruism). Based on an adequate understanding of the sources of our beliefs and decisions (our moral psychology and neurobiology), we can assess whether we’re justified in holding particular moral views and properly motivated to do what’s right. Against a rising pessimism, I’ve argued that moral thought and action are ultimately rational enterprises. (My views are thus largely “rationalist” and “non-skeptical.”) Nevertheless, there is certainly room for improvement, and my work also attempts to understand social change and moral progress. How, in particular, can the sciences of the mind help us to become more virtuous and better equipped to tackle societal challenges of the 21st century, such as factory farming, climate change, and mental illness?
Neuroethics: Agency in the Age of Brain Science (Oxford University Press, under contract)
Agency in Mental Disorder: Philosophical Dimensions, co-edited w/Matt King (Oxford University Press, 2022)
Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind (Oxford University Press, 2018)
Note: Article titles link to penultimate drafts (or self-archived finals if open access); journal titles link to final version if available. Both links contain abstracts.
2018: King, M. & May, J. “Moral Responsibility and Mental Illness: A Call for Nuance.” Neuroethics 11(1): 11-22. [Featured on Bookforum]
2017: Feltz, A. & May, J. “The Means/Side-Effect Distinction in Moral Cognition: A Meta-Analysis.” Cognition 166: 314–327.
2016: May, J. “Emotional Reactions to Human Reproductive Cloning.” Journal of Medical Ethics 42(1): 26-30. [Selected as Editor’s Choice with a discussion piece | featured on Bookforum | blog discussion | data]
2014: May, J. “Moral Judgment and Deontology: Empirical Developments.” Philosophy Compass 9(11): 745-755. [Featured on Bookforum]
2014: Shepard, J. & May, J. “Does Belief in Dualism Protect against Maladaptive Psycho-social Responses to Deep Brain Stimulation?” American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 5(4): 40–42.
2011: May, J. “Egoism, Empathy, and Self-Other Merging” Southern Journal of Philosophy 49(S1): 25–39, Spindel Supplement: Empathy & Ethics, R. Debes (ed.). [Emerging Scholar Prize Essay; other contributors include: S. Darwall, J. Deigh, P. Goldie, J. Prinz, M. Slote.]
2011: May, J. “Relational Desires and Empirical Evidence against Psychological Egoism” European Journal of Philosophy 19(1): 39–58.
2010: May, J., Sinnott-Armstrong, W., Hull, J. G. & Zimmerman, A. “Practical Interests, Relevant Alternatives, & Knowledge Attributions” Review of Philosophy & Psychology 1(2): 265–273, Special Issue ed. by E. Machery, T. Lombrozo, & J. Knobe. [Blog discussion | data | replications: 1, 2, 3]
Forthcoming: May, J., Workman, C., Haas, J. & Han, H. “The Neuroscience of Moral Judgment: Empirical and Philosophical Developments.” In Neuroscience & Philosophy, eds. F. de Brigard & W. Sinnott-Armstrong. MIT Press.
2016: May, J. “Repugnance as Performance Error: The Role of Disgust in Bioethical Intuitions.” In The Ethics of Human Enhancement: Understanding the Debate, S. Clarke, et al. (eds.), Oxford University Press, pp. 43-57. [review]
2017: May, J. “Empathy and Intersubjectivity.” The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy, Heidi Maibom (ed.), Routledge, pp. 169-179. [The volume won CHOICE’s Outstanding Academic Title of the Year 2018.]
2016: Review of Bound: Essays on Free Will & Responsibility (2015, OUP) by Shaun Nichols, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 9, No. 2: 416-17. [More detailed thoughts in this blog post.]
2014: Review of Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom (2013, Crown), Metapsychology, Vol. 18, No. 33.
2010: Review of Experimental Philosophy ed. by Knobe & Nichols (2008, OUP), Philosophical Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 711-715.
2009: Review of Willing, Wanting, Waiting by Richard Holton (2009, OUP), Metapsychology, Vol. 13, No. 23.
2009: Review of A Very Bad Wizard: Morality behind the Curtain by Tamler Sommers (2009, McSweeney’s), Metapsychology, Vol. 13, No. 53. [Featured on Arts & Letters Daily.]
(If not already provided, drafts may be available upon request.)
A book monograph on neuroethics (in progress)
A paper on how moral exemplars motivate emulation (under review)
A paper on ethical vegetarianism and social change (under review)
A paper on motivated moral reasoning in charitable giving (in progress)
A paper on declining prejudice toward the LGBTQ community (early stages)
A handbook chapter on reason, emotion, and moral progress (early stages)