Experiments and Ethics: An Interdisciplinary Conference

On June 6-7th, the Ertegun House hosted “Experiments and Ethics: An Interdisciplinary Conference.” The conference explored connections among various empirical and theoretical approaches to ethics. Speakers represented a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds: anthropology, cognitive science, economics, philosophy, practical ethics, psychology, neuroscience and religion.

The conference began on Friday night with presentations from Regina Rini (Philosophy) who discussed “The Trouble With Moral Psychology” and Oliver Scott Curry (Anthropology) who asked, “Are There Any Universal Moral Values?” Saturday kicked off with two philosophy presentations: Josh Shepherd on “Consciousness and Moral Agency” and Andreas Mogensen on “Do evolutionary debunking arguments rest on a mistake about evolutionary explanations?” It continued with perspectives from economics, psychology, and cognitive science of religion: Donna Harris (Economics) on “Is it A Norm To Favor Your Own Group?”; Alissa Baker-Oglesbee (Psychology) on “The Fallibility of Science on Moral Reasoning”; and Helen De Cruz (Philosophy) on “Experimental Philosophy of Religion: Topics, Results and Challenges”. The conference concluded with Molly Crockett (Psychology and Neuroscience), who discussed “Computational Models of Moral Cognition,” and Janet Radcliffe Richards (Philosophy) who gave a wide-ranging talk on Mill, feminism, evolutionary theory, and the concepts of “nature” and the “natural.”

The conference demonstrated the value in a variety of approaches of studying ethics, in particular the value in and need for both empirical and theoretical investigation. But the dialogue and discussions of the conference also demonstrated the value of interdisciplinary discussion. Philosophical ethics that draws on empirical work is all the richer, and there are important philosophical contributions to make in the interpretation and analysis of empirical approaches themselves.

– Kevin Tobia

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