Neuroethics:The relation between philosophical reflection and empirical research

Anno L, n. 213, maggio-agosto 2015
Centro Einaudi
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The aim of this paper is to focus on the most relevant methodological challenge that neuroethicists have to face when dealing with the neuroscience of ethics, that is with the contribution empirical research in general and neuroscience in particular can make to our knowledge of moral issues. Before considering any substantial thesis in the debate, those who are interested in neuroethics have to try to answer a tricky question: how, and to what extent, can empirical analysis modify philosophical theories? That is, how can the way things are influence they way the should or ought to be?
A worry can arise concerning the relation between empirical findings and theoretical analysis and it has deep routes into the philosophical debate. The interpretation of Hume’s is/ought passage, the division between fact and values, and Moore’s argument against the naturalistic fallacy have made any attempt to consider scientific discoveries into the philosophical debate hard.
I will conclude that data coming from neuroscience, as much as from any other empirical domain, can play an indirect role in modifying our theoretical understanding of morality. What they cannot do is prove one specific theory, their role is simply that of limiting possible theories to feasible ones.