Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Paperback Edition of "Elements of Moral Cognition"

John Mikhail

I'm pleased to announce that my book, Elements of Moral Cognition: Rawls' Linguistic Analogy and the Cognitive Science of Moral and Legal Judgment, is now available in paperback.

During the next few months, I hope to post some reflections here on critical reactions to the book and, more broadly, on current trends in moral psychology, which in recent years has become one of the most dynamic and influential areas of research in the cognitive and brain sciences.  I also expect to discuss some of the implications of this new research for moral philosophy, legal theory, and public policy.

A description of the book and three editorial reviews are given below:

Is the science of moral cognition usefully modeled on aspects of Universal Grammar? Are human beings born with an innate "moral grammar" that causes them to analyze human action in terms of its moral structure, with just as little awareness as they analyze human speech in terms of its grammatical structure? Questions like these have been at the forefront of moral psychology ever since John Mikhail revived them in his influential work on the linguistic analogy and its implications for jurisprudence and moral theory. In this seminal book, Mikhail offers a careful and sustained analysis of the moral grammar hypothesis, showing how some of John Rawls' original ideas about the linguistic analogy, together with famous thought experiments like the trolley problem, can be used to improve our understanding of moral and legal judgment. The book will be of interest to philosophers, cognitive scientists, legal scholars, and other researchers in the interdisciplinary field of moral psychology.

"Judicious, carefully executed, and deeply informed, this valuable study builds upon the early work of John Rawls, including his now-classic Theory of Justice, identifying its core principles, persuasively defending them against critics, deepening them conceptually and developing rich empirical foundations. It thereby provides the outlines of a naturalistic theory of moral judgment and moral cognition, which may well be a common human possession. One conclusion with broad consequences is that moral cognition crucially relies on the generation of complex mental representations of actions and their components. Mikhail's enterprise resurrects fundamental themes of traditional moral philosophy and Enlightenment rationalism, while showing how they can be cast as empirical science with far-reaching implications for political, social, and legal theory. It is a most impressive contribution."
--Noam Chomsky

"John Mikhail's Elements of Moral Cognition: Rawls Linguistic Analogy And The Cognitive Science of Moral Judgment carefully and convincingly explains John Rawls' remarks in his Theory of Justice about a possible analogy between linguistics and moral theory, showing that most commentators have mischaracterized these remarks and have therefore misunderstood important aspects of Rawls' early writings. (This is the best account I have read of Rawls.) In addition Mikhail takes the linguistic analogy more seriously than other researchers and develops the beginnings of a kind of moral grammar that is somewhat analogous to the grammar of a language. The grammar he envisions has rules characterizing more or less complex actions, rules that derive partly from Alvin Goldman's Theory of Action and uses concepts taken from common law. He also speculates on the implications of the possibility that a moral grammar of this sort might account for aspects of ordinary moral judgments, comparing morality with language. I believe that Mikhail's current work in this area as reported in his book is the most important contemporary development in moral theory."
--Gilbert Harman, Stuart Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University

"Finally, a book that compares our current knowledge of human morality against the idea of an inborn rule-based system, not unlike universal grammar. With great erudition, John Mikhail carefully discusses all of the steps needed to understand this linguistic parallel, adding a new perspective to the ongoing debate about an evolved moral sense."
--Frans de Waal, author of "The Age of Empathy" (Harmony, 2009)

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