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Mikhail’s Insight: Structure and a Linguistic Analogy

Mikhail’s theoretical argument (reconstruction)

Do humans have a language ethics module?

1. ‘adequately specifying the kinds of harm that humans intuitively grasp requires a technical legal vocabulary’

Compare: ‘ concepts like battery, end, means and side effect [...] can [...] predict human moral intuitions in a huge number and variety of cases’ \citep[p.~149]{mikhail:2007_universal}.

Therefore:

2. The abilities underpinning unreflective ethical judgements must involve analysis in accordance with rules.

Mikhail, 2007

For now we are setting this idea up in opposition with the emotions idea. But actually they are not in opposition at all. Compare nonmoral disgust: it too can be based on a complex analysis of a situation.

Trolley

A runaway trolley is about to run over and kill five people. You can hit a switch that will divert the trolley onto a different set of tracks where it will kill only one.

Is it okay to hit the switch?

Trolley

\emph{Trolley}

A runaway trolley is about to run over and kill five people. You can hit a switch that will divert the trolley onto a different set of tracks where it will kill only one.

Is it okay to hit the switch?

Transplant

\emph{Transplant}

Five people are going to die but you can save them all by cutting up one healthy person and distributing her organs.

Is it ok to cut her up?

Why do people respond differently?

Greene & Haidt, 2002: because they are ‘driven by social-emotional dispositions’ in one case but not the other

Mikhail, 2007; 2014: because one involves purposive battery

But crucially this depends on analysing the structure ...

Mikhail, 2007 figure 1d (part)

(read this from bottom to top)
‘the Transplant and Trolley findings can be partly explained in terms of the distinction between battery as a means and battery as a side effect’ \citep{mikhail:2007_universal}

Mikhail, 2007 figure 1d

Mikhail, 2014 table 2

Mikhail extends his analysis to many further cases where philosophers or cognitive scientists have identifed an apparently inexplicable contrast.

Mikhail’s theses:

The contrasts make sense from a legal point of view,
so there is no need to suppose incompatible ethical principles are applied.

Our intuitions conform to legal distinctions (purposive battery).

Mikhail’s theoretical argument (reconstruction)

Do humans have a language ethics module?

1. ‘adequately specifying the kinds of harm that humans intuitively grasp requires a technical legal vocabulary’

Compare: ‘ concepts like battery, end, means and side effect [...] can [...] predict human moral intuitions in a huge number and variety of cases’ \citep[p.~149]{mikhail:2007_universal}.

Therefore:

2. The abilities underpinning unreflective ethical judgements must involve analysis in accordance with rules.

Mikhail, 2007

So that was an argument for premise 1.
So this was one argument for the claim ...
The important thing for me isn’t whether you find the argument compelling or not. There’s surely much more to say. It’s that the motivating for it gives us a good question, a puzzle even.

puzzle

Why do patterns in humans’ intuitive judgements reflect legal principles they are unaware of?

What evidence might bear on this question.

What evidence might indicate that humans have a language ethics module?

dumbfounding

resistance to revisability

structure implicit in moral intuitions

Question for the essay this week is hard to understand. Hopefully thinking about Huebner et al will help

‘Does emotion influence moral judgment or merely motivate morally relevant action?’

Huebner et al, 2009

Yes! --- Sinnott-Armstrong et al, 2010

No! --- Dwyer, 2009; Mikhail, 2007

Do you understand this second answer. Do you have any quesitons about it.

‘Does emotion influence moral judgment
or merely motivate morally relevant action?’

emotion proponents

Why do patterns in humans’ intuitive judgements reflect legal principles they are unaware of?

linguistic analogy fans

Why do feelings of disgust influence unreflective moral judgements?

And why do we feel disgust in response to moral transgressions?