Neuroscience and Ethics: Assessing Greene's Epistemic Debunking Argument Against Deontology

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A number of people believe that results from neuroscience have the potential to settle seemingly intractable debates concerning the nature, practice, and reliability of moral judgments. In particular, Joshua Greene has argued that evidence from neuroscience can be used to advance the long-standing debate between consequentialism and deontology. This paper first argues that charitably interpreted, Greene's neuroscientific evidence can contribute to substantive ethical discussions by being part of an epistemic debunking argument. It then argues that taken as an epistemic debunking argument, Greene's argument falls short in undermining deontological judgments. Lastly, it proposes that accepting Greene's methodology at face value, neuroimaging results may in fact call into question the reliability of consequentialist judgments. The upshot is that Greene's empirical results do not undermine deontology and that Greene's project points toward a way by which empirical evidence such as neuroscientific evidence can play a role in normative debates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-92
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2017


  • Consequentialism
  • Deontology
  • Joshua Greene
  • Moral judgment
  • Neuroscience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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