Cognitive scientific challenges to morality

Neil Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Recent findings in neuroscience, evolutionary biology and psychology seem to threaten the existence or the objectivity of morality. Moral theory and practice is founded, ultimately, upon moral intuition, but these empirical findings seem to show that our intuitions are responses to nonmoral features of the world, not to moral properties. They therefore might be taken to show that our moral intuitions are systematically unreliable. I examine three cognitive scientific challenges to morality, and suggest possible lines of reply to them. I divide these replies into two groups: we might confront the threat, showing that it does not have the claimed implications for morality; or we might bite the bullet, accepting that the claims have moral implications, but incorporating these claims into morality. I suggest that unless we are able to bite the bullet, when confronted by cognitive scientific challenges, there is a real possibility that morality will be threatened. This fact gives us a weighty reason to adopt a metaethics that makes it relatively easy to bite cognitive scientific bullets. Moral constructivism, in one of its many forms, makes these bullets more palatable; therefore, the cognitive scientific challenges provide us with an additional reason to adopt a constructivist metaethics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)567-587
Number of pages21
JournalPhilosophical Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive Science
  • Constructivism
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Intuitions
  • Moral Theory
  • Neuroscience
  • Psychology


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