Moral and Vocational Dilemmas Meet the Common Currency Hypothesis: a Contribution to Value Commensurability

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 11 (1):83-102 (2020)
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Moral dilemmas have long been debated in moral philosophy without reaching a definitive consensus. The majority of value pluralists attribute their origin to the incommensurability of moral values, i.e. the statement that, since moral values are many and different in nature, they may conflict and cannot be compared. Neuroscientific studies on the neural common currency show that the comparison between allegedly incompatible alternatives is a practical possibility, namely it is the basis of the way in which the agent evaluates choice options. Indeed, both in economic and moral decision-making, the value of options is represented and directly compared in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Therefore, we contend that moral dilemmas do not originate from value incommensurability and, on the basis of the neuroscientific discoveries on the neural currency, we derive the implications for the philosophical debate on moral dilemmas. We also provide a possible connection between the experience of moral dilemmas and their neural representation: one of the causes of the individual’s indecision is the neural tie, i.e. the condition in which two options have the same value at neural level, and her regret could be due to the motivational force of the rejected option that is still signalled by affective processes in the brain. We apply this interpretation and the common currency hypothesis to vocational decisions and propose that, although from the agent’s perspective the options are qualitatively different, they may be nevertheless equivalent at neural level. This can be seen as a reason for downgrading the importance commonly attributed to the risk of making the “wrong choice”.



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