The genealogy of the moral modules

Minds and Machines 13 (2):233-255 (2003)

Abstract

This paper defends a cognitive theory of those emotional reactions which motivate and constrain moral judgment. On this theory, moral emotions result from mental faculties specialized for automatically producing feelings of approval or disapproval in response to mental representations of various social situations and actions. These faculties are modules in Fodor's sense, since they are informationally encapsulated, specialized, and contain innate information about social situations. The paper also tries to shed light on which moral modules there are, which of these modules we share with non-human primates, and on the (pre-)history and development of this modular system from pre-humans through gatherer-hunters and on to modern (i.e. arablist) humans. The theory is not, however, meant to explain all moral reasoning. It is plausible that a non-modular intelligence at least sometimes play a role in conscious moral thought. However, even non-modular moral reasoning is initiated and constrained by moral emotions having modular sources.

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