Moral Philosophy and Mental Representation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter is organized as follows. Sections I and II sketch two of the projects frequently pursued by moral philosophers, and the methods typically invoked in those projects. It is argued that these projects presuppose (or at least suggest) a particular sort of account of the mental representation of human value systems, since the methods make sense only if we assume a certain kind of story about how the human mind stores information about values. The burden of the argument in Section III will be that while the jury is still out, there is some evidence suggesting that this account of mental representation is mistaken. If it is mistaken, it follows that two of the central methods of moral philosophy may have to be substantially modified, or perhaps abandoned, and that the goals philosophers have sought to achieve with these methods may themselves be misguided. Section IV takes a brief look at a rather different project in moral philosophy-a project that is compatible with a wide range of theories about the structures subserving mental representation. But to pursue the project seriously, it is necessary to determine which of these theories is correct. And that is a job requiring input from anthropologists, linguists, artificial intelligence researchers, and cognitive psychologists as well as philosophers. If this is right, a surprising redrawing of traditional disciplinary boundaries is in order. For a central project in ethics will turn out to be located squarely within the domain of cognitive science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCollected Papers, Volume 2
Subtitle of host publicationKnowledge, Rationality, and Morality, 1978-2010
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199949823
ISBN (Print)9780199733477
StatePublished - Sep 20 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


  • Cognitive science
  • Ethics
  • Human value systems
  • Mental representation
  • Moral philosophers


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