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Rules, Know-How, and the Future of Moral Cognition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

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Extract

Professor Clark's splendid essay represents a step forward from which there should be no retreat. Our de facto moral cognition involves a complex and evolving interplay between, on the one hand, the non discursive cognitive mechanisms of the biological brain, and, on the other, the often highly discursive extra-personal “scaffolding” that structures the social world in which our brains are normally situated, a world that has been, to a large extent, created by our own moral and political activity. That interplay extends the reach and elevates the quality of the original nondiscursive cognition, and thus any adequate account of moral cognition must address both of these contributing dimensions. An account that focuses only on brain mechanisms will be missing something vital.

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II. Biology and Moral Discourse
Copyright
Copyright © The Authors 2000

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References

1 Clark, A., “Word and Action: Reconciling Rules and Know-How in Moral Cognition,” this volume.

2 For a quick and accessible introduction, see Churchland, P.M.The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995)Google Scholar. For a sketch of its applications to moral theory in particular, see Churchland, P.M.Toward a Cognitive Neurobiology of the Moral Virtues,” Topoi 17 (1998): 8396Google Scholar. For a more thorough and more neurophysiologically focussed introduction, see Churchland, P.S. and Sejnowski, T.The Computational Brain (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a more philosophically oriented introduction, see Churchland, P.M.A Neurocomputational Perspective: The Nature of Mind and the Structure of Science (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989)Google Scholar. For a rigorous mathematical introduction, see Rojas, R.Neural Networks: A Systematic Introduction (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The bibliography of any of these will lead you stepwise into the larger literature.

3 Clark, AndyBeing There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997).Google Scholar

4 The reader will here recognize Wilfrid Sellars’ well-known account of the origins and nature of our Folk Psychology, as outlined in the closing sections of his classic paper, “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,” chap. 3 of Science, Perception, and Reality (London: Routledge, 1963). Ironically (from our present perspective), Sellars was blissfully convinced that Folk Psychology was an accurate portrayal of our inner cognitive activities. (I recall finding it advisable to down-play my own nascent eliminativism during my dissertation defense, a meeting chaired by that worthy philosopher.) But Sellars’ conviction on this point notwithstanding, Folk Psychology had invited systematic scepticism long before the present, and for reasons above and beyond the recent flourishing of cognitive neurobiology. See, for example, my “Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes,” Journal of Philosophy 78, no. 2 (1981), now twenty years old.

5 Appeals to ethology are not always welcome in moral philosophy, but we had better get used to them. The traditionally unquestioned gap between “Rational Man” and “the unreasoning brutes” is no more substantial than is the division, so long revered in ancient Cosmology, between the “sublunary realm” and the “superlunary realm.” For a recent and exemplary exploration of what the animal kingdom may have to teach us about the nature of morality, see Macintyre, A.Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (Chicago: Open Court, 1999)Google Scholar.

6 Hooker, C.A.Reason, Regulation, and Realism: Toward a Regulatory Systems Theory of Reason and Evolutionary Epistemology (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995)Google Scholar. This provocative book presents a general theory of the nested hierarchy of regulatory mechanisms that biological, social, and intellectual evolution have progressively assembled on this planet.

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