Friday, April 13, 2012

[PL 431] Kantian and Millian Brains

The video clip from the previous post about Magnetic Mind Control raises another interesting question--a question about moral judgments.

As shown in the clip, researchers have found that people's moral judgments change when Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is applied to an area of the brain called the right Temporo-Parietal Junction (RTPJ), which is the area thought to be in charge of judging intentions. As Rebecca Saxe puts it:
What we found is that people who are having TMS to their right TPJ make moral judgments that depend less on the person's beliefs and intentions.
Accordingly, one might think that the difference between deontological ethics and consequentialism boils down to a difference between brains. In other words, perhaps Immanuel Kant's RTPJ was overly active such that his moral judgments were made based on the intentions of the moral agents in question, whereas John Stuart Mill's RTPJ was less active (or perhaps even non-functional) such that intentions did not come into play for him when he made moral judgments.

If this is correct, then does that mean that moral judgments are relative to the type of brain that is making those judgments? In other words, is a Kantian brain (with overly active RTPJ) more likely to judge Teddy's behavior harshly based on Teddy's intentions? Is a Millian brain (with non-active RTPJ) more likely to judge Teddy's behavior less harshly based on the consequences of Teddy's action rather than his intentions? And if so, can we rely on our moral judgments to figure out what is morally right and what is morally wrong?

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