Joshua May

Joshua May
University of Alabama at Birmingham | UAB · Department of Philosophy

PhD

About

44
Publications
20,008
Reads
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444
Citations
Introduction
My research addresses questions at the intersection of ethics and cognitive science, in an effort to understand the development, breakdown, and improvement of moral knowledge and virtue. Against a rising pessimism, I’ve argued that moral thought and action are ultimately rational, not merely emotional, enterprises that aren’t fundamentally flawed. Nevertheless, there is room for improvement, and I’m increasingly interested in social change.
Additional affiliations
August 2018 - present
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Position
  • Professor (Associate)
August 2013 - August 2018
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Position
  • Professor (Assistant)
July 2011 - July 2013
Monash University (Australia)
Position
  • Lecturer
Description
  • I was on a 3 year postion as a "lecturer," which at Monash is equivalent to a Visiting Assistant Professorship in the U.S. I left a year early for my tenure-track position at UAB.
Education
September 2005 - June 2011

Publications

Publications (44)
Article
Full-text available
Some stories of moral exemplars motivate us to emulate their admirable attitudes and behaviors, but why do some exemplars motivate us more than others? We systematically studied how motivation to emulate is influenced by the similarity between a reader and an exemplar in social or cultural background (Relatability) and how personally costly or dema...
Article
Full-text available
How can we make moral progress on factory farming? Part of the answer lies in human moral psychology. Meat consumption remains high, despite increased awareness of its negative impact on animal welfare. Weakness of will is part of the explanation: acceptance of the ethical arguments doesn't always motivate changes in dietary habits. However, we dra...
Preprint
Full-text available
Some stories of moral exemplars motivate us to emulate their admirable attitudes and behaviors, but why do some exemplars motivate us more than others? We systematically studied how motivation to emulate is influenced by the similarity between a reader and an exemplar in social or cultural background (Relatability) and how personally costly or dema...
Article
Full-text available
Moral, social, political, and other "nonepistemic" values can lead to bias in science, from prioritizing certain topics over others to the rationalization of questionable research practices. Such values might seem particularly common or powerful in the social sciences, given their subject matter. However, I argue first that the well-documented phen...
Article
Full-text available
I draw on neurobiological evidence to defend the rationalist thesis that moral judgments are essentially dependent on reasoning, not emotions (conceived as distinct from inference). The neuroscience reveals that moral cognition arises from domain-general capacities in the brain for inferring, in particular, the consequences of an agent's action, th...
Chapter
Full-text available
We chart how neuroscience and philosophy have together advanced our understanding of moral judgment with implications for when it goes well or poorly. The field initially focused on brain areas associated with reason versus emotion in the moral evaluations of sacrificial dilemmas. But new threads of research have studied a wider range of moral eval...
Article
Full-text available
There is a rich tradition in bioethics of gathering empirical data to inform, supplement, or test the implications of normative ethical analysis. To this end, bioethicists have drawn on diverse methods, including qualitative interviews, focus groups, ethnographic studies, and opinion surveys to advance understanding of key issues in bioethics. In s...
Article
In response, I elaborate on my conception of moral reasoning, as well as clarify the structure of debunking arguments and how my cautious optimism is only of the “glass half full” sort. I also explain how rationalism can capture insights purportedly only explained by sentimentalist and Humean views. The reply concludes by clarifying and admitting s...
Preprint
Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind argues that a careful examination of the scientific literature reveals a foundational role for reasoning in moral thought and action. Grounding moral psychology in reason then paves the way for a defense of moral knowledge and virtue against a variety of empirical challenges, such as debunking arguments and situa...
Article
Full-text available
Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind argues that a careful examination of the scientific literature reveals a foundational role for reasoning in moral thought and action. Grounding moral psychology in reason then paves the way for a defense of moral knowledge and virtue against a variety of empirical challenges, such as debunking arguments and situa...
Preprint
Determinism seems to rule out a robust sense of options but also prevent our choices from being a matter of luck. In this way, free will seems to require both the truth and falsity of determinism. If the concept of free will is coherent, something must have gone wrong. I offer a diagnosis on which this puzzle is due at least in part to a tension al...
Preprint
We provide empirical evidence that people who believe in dualism are more likely to be uncomfortable with Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and to view it as threatening to their identity, humanity, or self. It is (neurocentric) materialists—who think the mind just is the brain—that are less inclined to fear DBS or to see it as threatening. We suggest v...
Preprint
Experimental research suggests that people draw a moral distinction between bad outcomes brought about as a means versus a side effect (or byproduct). Such findings have informed multiple psychological and philosophical debates about moral cognition, including its computational structure, its sensitivity to the famous Doctrine of Double Effect, its...
Preprint
At least since the middle of the twentieth century, philosophers have tended to identify weakness of will with akrasia—i.e. acting, or having a disposition to act, contrary to one’s judgments about what is best for one to do. However, there has been some recent debate about whether this captures the ordinary notion of weakness of will. Richard Holt...
Preprint
Background: Extant surveys of people’s attitudes toward human reproductive cloning focus on moral judgments alone, not emotional reactions or sentiments. This is especially important given that some (esp. Leon Kass) have argued against such cloning on the grounds that it engenders widespread negative emotions, like disgust, that provide a moral gui...
Preprint
In defending his interest-relative account of knowledge, Jason Stanley relies heavily on intuitions about several bank cases. We experimentally test the empirical claims that Stanley seems to make concerning our common-sense intuitions about these cases. Additionally, we test the empirical claims that Jonathan Schaffer seems to make, regarding the...
Chapter
Full-text available
Arguments attempting to debunk moral beliefs, by showing they are unjustified, have tended to be global, targeting all moral beliefs or a large set of them. Popular debunking arguments point to various factors purportedly influencing moral beliefs, from evolutionary pressures, to automatic and emotionally-driven processes, to framing effects. We sh...
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter discusses contemporary scientific research on the role of reason and emotion in moral judgment. The literature suggests that moral judgment is influenced by both reasoning and emotion separately, but there is also emerging evidence of the interaction between the two. While there are clear implications for the rationalism-sentimentalism...
Chapter
Full-text available
I argue that our best science supports the rationalist idea that, independent of reasoning, emotions aren't integral to moral judgment. There's ample evidence that ordinary moral cognition often involves conscious and unconscious reasoning about an action's outcomes and the agent's role in bringing them about. Emotions can aid in moral reasoning by...
Chapter
Full-text available
The rhetoric of disgust is common in moral discourse and political propaganda. Some believe it's pernicious, for it convinces without evidence. But scientific research now suggests that disgust is typically an effect, not a cause, of moral judgment. At best the emotion on its own only sometimes slightly amplifies a moral belief one already has. App...
Book
Full-text available
The burgeoning science of ethics has produced a trend toward pessimism. Ordinary moral thought and action, we're told, are profoundly influenced by arbitrary factors and ultimately driven by unreasoned feelings. This book counters the current orthodoxy on its own terms by carefully engaging with the empirical literature. The result is a cautious op...
Article
Full-text available
Does having a mental disorder, in general, affect whether someone is morally responsible for an action? Many people seem to think so, holding that mental disorders nearly always mitigate responsibility. Against this Naïve view, we argue for a Nuanced account. The problem is not just that different theories of responsibility yield different verdicts...
Article
Full-text available
Doris argues that our choices are heavily influenced by forces that we wouldn't count as genuine reasons. This unsettling conclusion is motivated by a debunking argument so wide-ranging that it isn't foisted upon us by the sciences. Doris sometimes seems to lower his ambitions when offering instead a skeptical hypothesis argument, but that conflict...
Article
Full-text available
Experimental research suggests that people draw a moral distinction between bad outcomes brought about as a means versus a side effect (or byproduct). Such findings have informed multiple psychological and philosophical debates about moral cognition, including its computational structure, its sensitivity to the famous Doctrine of Double Effect, its...
Chapter
Full-text available
Empathy is intersubjective in that it connects us mentally with others. Some theorists believe that by blurring the distinction between self and other empathy can provide a radical form of altruism that grounds all of morality and even a kind of immortality. Others are more pessimistic and maintain that in distorting the distinction between self an...
Article
Full-text available
How do we form our moral judgments, and how do they influence behavior? What ultimately motivates kind versus malicious action? Moral psychology is the interdisciplinary study of such questions about the mental lives of moral agents, including moral thought, feeling, reasoning, and motivation. While these questions can be studied solely from the ar...
Chapter
Full-text available
This is a commentary on a paper by the social psychologist C. Daniel Batson. I too think virtue is rare, but not so rare as Batson seems to think, despite his ingenious experiments on " moral hypocrisy. " As usual, Dan Batson provides an experimentally rigorous, yet philosophically sophisticated, account of moral motivation—a model for exemplary wo...
Chapter
Full-text available
An influential argument in bioethics involves appeal to disgust, calling on us to take it seriously as a moral guide (e.g. Kass, Miller, Kahan). Some argue, for example, that genetic enhancement, especially via human reproductive cloning, is repellant or grotesque. While objectors have argued that repugnance is morally irrelevant (e.g. Nussbaum, Ke...
Article
Background Extant surveys of people's attitudes towards human reproductive cloning focus on moral judgements alone, not emotional reactions or sentiments. This is especially important given that some (especially Leon Kass) have argued against such cloning on the ground that it engenders widespread negative emotions, like disgust, that provide a mor...
Article
Full-text available
We provide empirical evidence that people who believe in dualism are more likely to be uncomfortable with Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and to view it as threatening to their identity, humanity, or self. It is (neurocentric) materialists—who think the mind just is the brain—that are less inclined to fear DBS or to see it as threatening. We suggest v...
Article
Full-text available
Carruthers argues that knowledge of our own propositional attitudes is achieved by the same mechanism used to attain knowledge of other people's minds. This seems incompatible with "privileged access"—the idea that we have more reliable beliefs about our own mental states, regardless of the mechanism. At one point Carruthers seems to suggest he may...
Article
Full-text available
Determinism seems to rule out a robust sense of options but also prevent our choices from being a matter of luck. In this way, free will seems to require both the truth and falsity of determinism. If the concept of free will is coherent, something must have gone wrong. I offer a diagnosis on which this puzzle is due at least in part to a tension al...
Article
A traditional idea has it that moral judgment involves more than calculating the consequences of actions; it also requires an assessment of the agent's intentions, the act's nature, and whether the agent uses another person as a means to her ends. I survey experimental developments suggesting that ordinary people often tacitly reason in terms of su...
Article
Full-text available
Recent empirical research seems to show that emotions play a substantial role in moral judgment. Perhaps the most important line of support for this claim focuses on disgust. A number of philosophers and scientists argue that there is adequate evidence showing that disgust significantly influences various moral judgments. And this has been used to...
Article
Full-text available
Our beliefs about which actions we ought to perform clearly have an effect on what we do. But so-called “Humean” theories — holding that all motivation has its source in desire — insist on connecting such beliefs with an antecedent motive. Rationalists, on the other hand, allow normative beliefs a more independent role. I argue in favor of the rati...
Article
Full-text available
Moral skeptics maintain that we do not have moral knowledge. Traditionally they haven't argued via skeptical hypotheses like those provided by perceptual skeptics about the external world, such as Descartes' deceiving demon. But some believe this can be done by appealing to hypotheses like moral nihilism. Moreover, some claim that skeptical hypothe...
Article
Full-text available
abstractSome philosophers and psychologists have evaluated psychological egoism against recent experimental work in social psychology. Dan Batson (1991, 2011), in particular, argues that empathy tends to induce genuinely altruistic motives in humans. However, some argue that there are egoistic explanations of the data that remain unscathed. I focus...
Article
Roughly, psychological egoism is the thesis that all of a person's intentional actions are ultimately self-interested in some sense; psychological altruism is the thesis that some people's intentional actions are ultimately other-regarding in some sense. C. Daniel Batson and other social psychologists have argued that there are experiments that pro...
Article
Full-text available
At least since the middle of the twentieth century, philosophers have tended to identify weakness of will with akrasia—i.e. acting, or having a disposition to act, contrary to one’s judgments about what is best for one to do. However, there has been some recent debate about whether this captures the ordinary notion of weakness of will. Richard Holt...
Article
Full-text available
In defending his interest-relative account of knowledge, Jason Stanley relies heavily on intuitions about several bank cases. We experimentally test the empirical claims that Stanley seems to make concerning our common-sense intuitions about these cases. Additionally, we test the empirical claims that Jonathan Schaffer seems to make, regarding the...

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Projects

Projects (8)
Project
Philosophical work in decision theory often employs intuitions regarding thought experiments, such as Newcomb's problem (Nozick 1969) and the Psychopath Button (Egan 2007). Given these cases are relatively far-fetched, we know little about the reliability of cognition in these settings. We plan to use empirical methods to better understand whether intuitions about such cases are likely to be robust under a broad range of circumstances.
Project
How can we apply neuroscience to studies in moral development and moral education? This project will utilize various neuroscientific methods, including but not limited to, meta-analysis, fMRI, machine learning, and interventions, in order to promote moral development and improve moral education.
Project
Examining the relationship between character strengths, virtues, civic engagement, and positive youth development, in terms of flourishing, among college students, including those with low SES.