Academic Cross-Training Fellowship ($207,088, John Templeton Foundation)
Our understanding of the brain is limited but rapidly improving, yet issues in neuroethics are in special need of rigorous philosophical analysis. Ethics is controversial enough; combined with the highly technical language of neuroscience, superficial and alarmist reactions will likely abound. Questions I’ll address include: How does moral learning and development work at the neurobiological level? As a result, should we be skeptical about virtuous character? Can we use brain stimulation, neurosurgery, and psychedelics to become more virtuous? To address such questions, I need broad knowledge of neuroscience and related work in psychology. Assisting with cross-training will be my mentor, Dr. Rajesh Kana (Professor of Psychology), an expert in social cognition and neuroimaging.
Some stories of moral exemplars motivate people to emulate the exemplars’ moral behavior. But why do some stories motivate better than others? Current evidence suggests that people are more moved by an exemplar who is similar to themselves and whose good deeds aren’t extraordinary. Our project aims to dig deeper into understanding this phenomenon by extending previous behavioral results and probing deeper into the underlying psychological and neurocognitive mechanisms.
Our project is to explore when and how the possession of a mental illness (such as autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, or depression) mitigates or otherwise affects one’s responsibility for the actions that result from one’s psychopathology (e.g. impolite remarks, assault, failure to pick up one’s daughter from school). Do only some disorders excuse morally inappropriate behavior? Or is there nothing about having a disorder as such that affects whether we ought to praise or blame someone for their moral success or failure? We will host a small conference of nationally recognized scholars presenting original work on the project theme. We aim to bring together established ethicists to address this topic from a diverse set of perspectives.
In some of my work, I have had the privilege of collaborating with some excellent scientists and philosophers, including:
- Tim Allen (Monash)
- David Allison (Indiana)
- Adam Feltz (Oklahoma)
- Andrea Glenn (U. of Alabama)
- Hyemin Han (U. of Alabama)
- Richard Holton (Cambridge)
- Jay G. Hull (Dartmouth)
- Matt King (UAB)
- Victor Kumar (Boston)
- Jason Shepard (Life University)
- Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke)
- Clifford Workman (Penn)
- Aaron Zimmerman (UCSB)