We commonly assume that we have conscious control over our moral actions. Empirical research on implicit attitudes and beliefs increasingly challenges this assumption. In my work, I explore the normative implications of these empirical results.
My research program has two main threads. In the first, I undertake theoretical analysis of good moral judgment and decision-making. This analysis is currently encapsulated in a book manuscript that I am working on. In the past several decades, empirical research has reignited a heated debate about the psychological processes underlying good moral decision-making as well as moral agency broadly. Throughout much of the history in analytic moral philosophy and moral psychology, deliberation and awareness of one’s motivating reasons have been perceived as both descriptively and normatively central to good moral decision-making and moral agency. However, recent research in psychology and cognitive science has shown that we explicitly deliberate about moral reasons much less often that is typically presumed. While many philosophers have been resistant to grapple with the theoretical and practical implications of this empirical research, an increasing number of theorists are recognizing the need to re-evaluate the descriptive and normative frameworks of moral philosophy and psychology. In particular, we are seeing a paradigm shift from more rationalistic views to frameworks that have roots in intuitionism and sentimentalism. In this book, I contribute to that paradigm shift in three ways. First, I review updated empirical research on automaticity and deliberation to show that automatic processes are more intelligent than is typically presumed and they serve our moral decisions well. Second, I draw from research in both humans and non-humans to show moral agency is anchored in empathetic, not rational, capacities. Finally, again drawing from empirical research, I argue that given the intelligence of automatic processing and the centrality of empathetic capacities in moral agency, we need new pedagogical frameworks for moral education and moral development. I put forth such a framework, according to which moral education focuses less on the explicit teaching of moral reasons and rules and more on skills such as empathetic perspective-taking and mindfulness.
In the second thread of my work, I discuss applied normative implications of value-guided automaticity. The following two projects exemplify this work. First, if conscious deliberation is not necessary for moral responsibility, nonhuman animals can plausibly be morally responsible. I argue that this is the case in “Nonhuman Animals Acting Morally” (forthcoming, American Philosophical Quarterly). Second, the idea that we can be responsible for implicit attitudes and values is often rejected because it is difficult to control implicitly acquired and held content. In “The Illusion of the Relevance of Difficulty in Evaluations of Moral Responsibility” (in progress), I argue that difficulty in doing the right or wrong thing ought not affect evaluations of moral responsibility. Difficulty appears relevant, I argue, because it functions as a heuristic for an agent’s quality of will, which is in fact relevant for evaluations of moral responsibility. In these projects, I challenge the boundaries and moral responsibility and questions assumptions about moral agency that often go unstated.