Workshop: Moral Psychology

October 9th 2015, University of Cambridge

CRASSH (SG1&2), Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT

Deadline for registration: Monday 5 October 2015.

Programme available here.


The Future of Moral Psychology 

Josh Greene (Harvard) and Molly Crockett (Oxford) will engage in a conversation on what might be the next big topics in moral psychology/neuroscience and the main challenges for the field to address moving forward.

On Responsibility and Control

Lisa Bortolotti (Birmingham) and Jillian Craigie (King’s College London)’s presentations will discuss challenges in attributing responsibility for action.

Jillian Craigie will discuss the difficulties currently presented by questions about the impact of alcohol addiction on legal issues of personal and criminal responsibility. These can be partly explained by the problem of devising legal tests that allow the volitional problems that are central to addiction to be taken into account. Are cognitive tests sufficient, or do such tests need a control limb? An analysis of the approach taken in law concerning anorexia nervosa—where problems of control are also central—will be used to reflect on the approach taken to alcohol dependence in English law.

Lisa Bortolotti will ask whether people are epistemically responsible for their developing delusional beliefs, and morally responsible for the actions motivated by such beliefs. Lisa will argue that people are not to be blamed for developing delusional beliefs, but they may be as responsible for the actions motivated by their delusional beliefs as they are for the actions motivated by their other (non-delusional) epistemically faulty beliefs. By reference to some case-studies, she will suggest that it is not clear how clinical delusions differ in either their epistemic features or their motivating role from other epistemically faulty beliefs that are not commonly identified as symptoms of mental disorders.


Friendship and Social Bonding – Emma Cohen (Oxford)

This discussion session will focus on the theme of friendship and social bonding broadly construed within an evolutionary approach.  Below is a sample of questions for discussion, all of which are readily approachable from diverse perspectives. Depending on preferences and expertise represented within the group, we may end up burrowing our way through one or two questions specifically, hopping across all and more, or coming up with different ones – remembering, of course, that friends needn’t always agree! Note that these questions implicitly assume that friendship is a cultural universal, but perhaps that’s a good question to start with.

– What is friendship bonding? Why do humans have friends? What distinguishes friendship from other forms of bonding and cooperation (e.g., kinship, trade)? What distinguishes human friendship from friendship in other species?

– What are the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms by which friend-bonds are formed and sustained in childhood and adulthood? How do they differ from other kinds of bonds?

–  What are the phylogenetic roots of friendship? Is friendship bonding – and the purportedly unique system for the exchange of favours that it entails – an adaptation, and, if so, how did it emerge and persist as an evolutionary stable strategy? Is it a (maladaptive) spandrel of mechanisms for kinship or pairbonding?

Morality and the Self – Daniel Effron (London Business School)

People are highly motivated to feel and appear virtuous. To preserve a moral self-concept, they will inhibit themselves from giving into unethical temptations, they will jump through mental hoops to rationalize their bad behavior, and they will derogate people who make them feel morally inferior. In this session, we will discuss as a group how the motivation to feel and appear virtuous can affect people’s actions and judgments of others. Sample discussion topics include why people sometimes act like hypocrites, what leads people to judge moral exemplars as righteous and worthy of admiration versus self-righteous and worthy of scorn, and how moral guidance can be given without making people feel defensive.

Mindreading and Morality: A Comparative Perspective – Marta Halina (Cambridge) 

Many philosophers and psychologists hold that the ability to mindread or represent the mental states of other agents is a central feature of moral psychology. What role does mindreading play in the cognitive mechanisms underlying moral motivation and reasoning? This discussion session will aim at addressing this question from the perspective of recent research in comparative psychology. It will ask: Is mindreading required for moral capacities such as altruistic motivation and moral judgments? What does contemporary work on cognitive abilities such as visual perspective taking and cooperation in great apes and human infants suggest? What further research is needed in order to expand and integrate our understanding of these cognitive mechanisms? And, lastly, what are the practical and policy implications of what we know thus far?

Moral Motivation – Marion Godman (Helsinki)

The question of what we ought to do is at the heart of normative ethics, but what we ought to do is often in plain view — it is the (moral) motivation that is lacking. But what then does makes us motivated to act morally? Although the philosophical discussion since Hume has been on the issue of whether moral beliefs themselves can be motivating or whether we need something else in addition for moral agency, I would like to discuss this topic in light of some recent research that casts some doubt on whether there is something like a ‘moral motivation’ at all. Some work I have in mind is: 1) The so-called ‘Good Samaritan’ experiments where specific situations or stressors seemingly rebut, or at least override the effects of, virtuous character traits possessed by individuals. So is there anything robust in our psychological make-up that is predictive of our moral behaviour?  2) Recent work on individuals with psychopathic traits suggests that they are less concerned to avoid things at the cost of fear, distress and punishment. But is the salience of past or possible punishment also a prerequisite for acting morally or merely a deterrent for immoral behaviour?


Title tbc

Benoit Monin (Stanford University)

Please register online for this event.

Conference fee: £20 (full), £10 (students) – includes lunch, tea/coffee
Deadline: Monday 5 October 2015. 

Please indicate in the comments section in which order you would prefer attending the following discussion group: 1. Friendship and Social Bonding; 2. Morality and the Self; 3. Morality and Mindreading; 4. Moral Motivation. 


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