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Cognition in moral space: A minimal model

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Cognition in moral space: A minimal model

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Abstract

We describe moral cognition as a process occurring in a distinctive cognitive space, wherein moral relationships are defined along several morally relevant dimensions. After identifying candidate dimensions, we show how moral judgments can emerge in this space directly from object perception, without any appeal to moral rules or abstract values. Our reductive “minimal model” (Batterman & Rice, 2014) elaborates Beal’s (2020) claim that moral cognition is determined, at the most basic level, by “ontological frames” defining subjects, objects, and the proper relation between them. We expand this claim into a set of formal hypotheses that predict moral judgments based on how objects are “framed” in the relevant dimensions of “moral space.”

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... First, there is the ultimate goal of modeling the complex dynamics of moral cognition. Elsewhere (Beal, 2020;Beal & Gogia, 2021), I describe some of the problems that emerge from the field's lack of understanding of the deeper structure of moral cognition in contemporary models such as Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) (e.g., Graham et al., 2013Graham et al., , 2018Haidt, 2012) and the Theory of Dyadic Morality (TDM) (e.g., Gray et al., 2012;Schein & Gray, 2015, while also analyzing the literature on moral dilemmas (e.g., Foot, 1967;Greene, 2013;Kohlberg, 1981;Mikhail, 2007;Thomson, 1985), dehumanization (e.g., e.g., Harris & Fiske, 2006Haslam, 2006;Haslam & Loughnan, 2014; J.P. Leyens et al., 2007;J-P. Leyens et al., 2003), and moral expansiveness (Crimston et al., 2016(Crimston et al., , 2018. ...
... There are people who do not feel moral obligations toward little bugs, but there are also people who do feel moral obligations toward little bugs. Moreover, the same person might feel no moral obligations toward little bugs in one context, but then feel moral obligations toward little bugs in another context (see Beal & Gogia, 2021). ...
... The cited data do not prove my claim, but they are strikingly consistent with it. It should be possible to empirically investigate precisely what contributes to an object's moral visibility, and I propose ways of exploring such hypotheses elsewhere (Beal & Gogia, 2021). For now, I would like to make a more basic point: The generic proposition that a simple moral judgment relies upon some conditional moral visibility is more than a mere conjecture. ...
Article
Theorists seeking evidence of moral cognition – whether in human infants, nonhuman animals, or any other population – would benefit from a minimalistic description of what moral cognition is. However, such a definition has proven elusive. Some argue that debates over the existence (or not) of moral cognition in various populations turn on unresolvable semantic disagreement over how to characterize the moral domain. I acknowledge a semantic dimension to some disputes and identify another problem: Often, while sidestepping semantics, researchers rely on logically circular operationalizations, defining moral cognition in terms of elements that are already implicitly understood to be features of moral cognition, while failing to answer the question of what makes these features, or their combination, uniquely moral. The present article proposes a single solution to both problems. The issue of semantics is addressed by the identification of a naturally emerging and distinctive cognitive modality that is necessary to all definitions of moral cognition. The problem of circularity is overcome by a reduction of moral cognition to elements that are, in themselves, nonmoral. I call this distinctive combination of nonmoral elements the “molecular” structure of moral cognition.
... Ontological framing refers to certain basic categories or frames of "what is" that have far-reaching ramifications for behavior, motivation, and moral judgments, as predicted by Shweder's (1992) one-boxed analysis. As an illustration of two foundational ontological framings-ST and WT-we appropriate for our purposes a parable from Beal and Gogia (2021): ...
Article
We developed the Strong Ties Weak Ties Rationality Scale (STWTRS) to demonstrate the heuristic value of the ontological turn which attempts to do justice to the cultural insider’s picture of what is real. To test empirically the hypothesis of the existence of two distinct ontological universes that fall along the divide between strong ties and weak ties ontological framings, we used STWTRS to conduct a cross-cultural study (n = 961) using four samples (i.e., Taiwanese, Yi Chinese, Asian American, and non-Asian American). The results support our claim that the ontological universe of the cultural insider is not a list of fragmentary, ever expanding list of attributes that proliferate in cross-cultural psychology, so much as a coherent wholeness. We argue that this concept is best articulated by Maturana and Varela’s (1980) theory of autopoietic living systems. Potential contributions to the literature and future research directions are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)
... Ontological framing refers to certain basic categories or frames of "what is" that have far-reaching ramifications for behavior, motivation, and moral judgments, as predicted by Shweder's (1992) one-boxed analysis. As an illustration of two foundational ontological framings-ST and WT-we appropriate for our purposes a parable AQ: 16 from Beal and Gogia (2021): ...
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© 2022, American Psychological Association. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the final, authoritative version of the article. Please do not copy or cite without authors' permission. The final article will be available, upon publication, via its DOI: 10.1037/hum0000284
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The debate between monists and pluralists in moral psychology has been framed as an argument over the number of “irreducible basic elements” that can be used to describe the extent of the moral domain: Do all moral values ultimately reduce to one principle (i.e., monism), or are there multiple irreducibly distinct moral values (i.e., pluralism)? I critique the premise of this debate, arguing that the breadth of the moral domain cannot be adequately represented, understood, or explained in terms of moral values. Instead, an adequate account of moral psychology must explain moral phenomena in terms of more basic elements: ontological frames.
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This article discusses minimal model explanations, which we argue are distinct from various causal, mechanical, difference-making, and so on, strategies prominent in the philosophical literature. We contend that what accounts for the explanatory power of these models is not that they have certain features in common with real systems. Rather, the models are explanatory because of a story about why a class of systems will all display the same large-scale behavior because the details that distinguish them are irrelevant. This story explains patterns across extremely diverse systems and shows how minimal models can be used to understand real systems.
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Part I. The Nature of Morality and the Development of Social Values: 1. Morality and domains of social knowledge 2. Morality and religious rules 3. Morality and the personal domain 4. Morality in context: issues of development 5. Morality in context: issues of culture 6. Morality and emotion 7. Reconceptualizing moral character Part II. Classroom Applications: 8. Creating a moral atmosphere 9. Integrating values education into the curriculum: a domain approach 10. Fostering the moral self Conclusion: keeping things in perspective Additional resources.
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The field of moral cognition has grown rapidly in recent years thanks in no small part to Cognition. Consistent with its interdisciplinary tradition, Cognition encouraged the growth of this field by supporting empirical research conducted by philosophers as well as research native to neighboring fields such as social psychology, evolutionary game theory, and behavioral economics. This research has been exceptionally diverse both in its content and methodology. I argue that this is because morality is unified at the functional level, but not at the cognitive level, much as vehicles are unified by shared function rather than shared mechanics. Research in moral cognition, then, has progressed by explaining the phenomena that we identify as "moral" (for high-level functional reasons) in terms of diverse cognitive components that are not specific to morality. In light of this, research on moral cognition may continue to flourish, not as the identification and characterization of distinctive moral processes, but as a testing ground for theories of high-level, integrative cognitive function. Copyright © 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.
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We review early and recent psychological theories of dehumanization and survey the burgeoning empirical literature, focusing on six fundamental questions. First, we examine how people are dehumanized, exploring the range of ways in which perceptions of lesser humanness have been conceptualized and demonstrated. Second, we review who is dehumanized, examining the social targets that have been shown to be denied humanness and commonalities among them. Third, we investigate who dehumanizes, notably the personality, ideological, and other individual differences that increase the propensity to see others as less than human. Fourth, we explore when people dehumanize, focusing on transient situational and motivational factors that promote dehumanizing perceptions. Fifth, we examine the consequences of dehumanization, emphasizing its implications for prosocial and antisocial behavior and for moral judgment. Finally, we ask what can be done to reduce dehumanization. We conclude with a discussion of limitations of current scholarship and directions for future research. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Psychology Volume 65 is January 03, 2014. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/catalog/pubdates.aspx for revised estimates.
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Where does morality come from? Why are moral judgments often so similar across cultures, yet sometimes so variable? Is morality one thing, or many? Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) was created to answer these questions. In this chapter we describe the origins, assumptions, and current conceptualization of the theory, and detail the empirical findings that MFT has made possible, both within social psychology and beyond. Looking toward the future, we embrace several critiques of the theory, and specify five criteria for determining what should be considered a foundation of human morality. Finally, we suggest a variety of future directions for MFT and for moral psychology.
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Dehumanized perception, a failure to spontaneously consider the mind of another person, may be a psychological mechanism facilitating inhumane acts like torture. Social cognition–considering someone’s mind–recognizes the other as a human being subject to moral treatment. Social neuroscience has reliably shown that participants normally activate a social-cognition neural network to pictures and thoughts of other people; our previous work shows that parts of this network uniquely fail to engage for traditionally dehumanized targets (homeless persons or drug addicts; see Harris & Fiske, 2009, for review). This suggests participants may not consider these dehumanized groups’ minds. Study 1 demonstrates that participants do fail to spontaneously think about the contents of these targets’ minds when imagining a day in their life, and rate them differently on a number of human-perception dimensions. Study 2 shows that these human-perception dimension ratings correlate with activation in brain regions beyond the social-cognition network, including areas implicated in disgust, attention, and cognitive control. These results suggest that disengaging social cognition affects a number of other brain processes and hints at some of the complex psychological mechanisms potentially involved in atrocities against humanity. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
60 boys and 60 girls in the 1st and 4th grades in Israel were interviewed to examine the distinction between moral and conventional norms. Ss were equally divided between 3 groups: secular urban Jews, secular kibbutz Jews, and traditional Arab villagers. Ss were presented with 8 behaviors, all breaches of moral or conventional norms. Two of them dealt with norms strongly observed by the traditional but not by the other groups and 2 with norms central to the kibbutz. Ss were asked the extent to which the behavior was bad (or good) in a country where (a) it was prohibited and (b) it was permitted. They were also asked whether it should be forbidden by law, and why. City and kibbutz Ss did not differ in their judgments, even in regard to behaviors emphasized in the kibbutz. Compared with these groups, the traditional group judged all behaviors as bad even when permitted; they thought all should be prohibited by law and their justifications tended to be in normative terms. Results are interpreted in terms of 2 distinct orientations to social norms: one where the criteria for social judgment of behaviors and norms are consequences to others and law, and the other where social norms are considered to have absolute validity and constitute the dominant criterion for moral judgment. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
There is a large tradition of work in moral psychology that explores the capacity for moral judgment by focusing on the basic capacity to distinguish moral violations (e.g. hitting another person) from conventional violations (e.g. playing with your food). However, only recently have there been attempts to characterize the cognitive mechanisms underlying moral judgment (e.g. Cognition 57 (1995) 1; Ethics 103 (1993) 337). Recent evidence indicates that affect plays a crucial role in mediating the capacity to draw the moral/conventional distinction. However, the prevailing account of the role of affect in moral judgment is problematic. This paper argues that the capacity to draw the moral/conventional distinction depends on both a body of information about which actions are prohibited (a Normative Theory) and an affective mechanism. This account leads to the prediction that other normative prohibitions that are connected to an affective mechanism might be treated as non-conventional. An experiment is presented that indicates that "disgust" violations (e.g. spitting at the table), are distinguished from conventional violations along the same dimensions as moral violations.
Article
Traditionally, prejudice has been conceptualized as simple animosity. The stereotype content model (SCM) shows that some prejudice is worse. The SCM previously demonstrated separate stereotype dimensions of warmth (low-high) and competence (low-high), identifying four distinct out-group clusters. The SCM predicts that only extreme out-groups, groups that are both stereotypically hostile and stereotypically incompetent (low warmth, low competence), such as addicts and the homeless, will be dehumanized. Prior studies show that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is necessary for social cognition. Functional magnetic resonance imaging provided data for examining brain activations in 10 participants viewing 48 photographs of social groups and 12 participants viewing objects; each picture dependably represented one SCM quadrant. Analyses revealed mPFC activation to all social groups except extreme (low-low) out-groups, who especially activated insula and amygdala, a pattern consistent with disgust, the emotion predicted by the SCM. No objects, though rated with the same emotions, activated the mPFC. This neural evidence supports the prediction that extreme out-groups may be perceived as less than human, or dehumanized.
Article
Scientists from various disciplines have begun to focus attention on the psychology and biology of human morality. One research program that has recently gained attention is universal moral grammar (UMG). UMG seeks to describe the nature and origin of moral knowledge by using concepts and models similar to those used in Chomsky's program in linguistics. This approach is thought to provide a fruitful perspective from which to investigate moral competence from computational, ontogenetic, behavioral, physiological and phylogenetic perspectives. In this article, I outline a framework for UMG and describe some of the evidence that supports it. I also propose a novel computational analysis of moral intuitions and argue that future research on this topic should draw more directly on legal theory.
Intentions and moral judgment across societies
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Moral foundations theory: On the advantages of moral pluralism over moral monism
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Moral tribes: Emotion, Reason and the gap between us and them
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