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Social and Behavioral Sciences Interest Group

Meeting time: Selected Wednesday afternoons, 3:30 - 5:00 (by announcement, usually second Wednesday of the month)
Meeting place: Philosophy Department Library Lounge, 837 Heller Hall.

The Social and Behavioral Sciences Interest Group (SoBIG) reads and discusses works of mutual interest in the philosophy of the social sciences, and in moral and prudential psychology in philosophy or the social sciences.  We select readings for a variety of reasons: to keep up on the most exciting developments in the field, to help participants examine literature relevant to their research projects, to provide feedback on works in progress being written by SoBIG participants, to revisit classic articles in the literature, and sometimes just to have fun discussing a topic related to the social sciences.

Our meetings are informal and some participants need to arrive late or leave early because of scheduling conflicts. All faculty from the University of Minnesota and area colleges and universities and graduate students are welcome to attend whenever they would like (without invitation) and without giving advanced notice. Undergraduates are included by invitation. (If you know of an undergraduate who is well-suited and possibly interested, please contact Valerie Tiberius so an invitation can be extended.)

Fall 2017

September 13: Stanford, P. Kyle. "The Difference Between Ice Cream and Nazis: Moral Externalization and the Evolution of Human Cooperation." Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2017): 1-–57.
Abstract: A range of empirical findings are first used to more precisely characterize our distinctive tendency to objectify or externalize moral demands, and it is then argued that this salient feature of our moral cognition represents a profound puzzle for evolutionary approaches to human moral psychology that existing proposals do not help to resolve. It is then proposed that such externalization facilitated a broader shift to a vastly more cooperative form of social life by establishing and maintaining a connection between the extent to which an agent is herself motivated by a given moral norm and the extent to which she uses conformity to that same norm as a criterion in evaluating candidate partners in social interaction generally. This connection ensures the correlated interaction necessary to protect those prepared to adopt increasingly cooperative, altruistic, and other prosocial norms of interaction from exploitation, especially as such norms were applied in novel ways and/or to novel circumstances and as the rapid establishment of new norms allowed us to reap still greater rewards from hypercooperation. A wide range of empirical findings are then used to support this hypothesis, showing why the status we ascribe to moral demands and considerations exhibits the otherwise puzzling combination of objective and subjective elements that it does as well as showing how the need to effectively advertise our externalization of particular moral commitments generates features of our social interaction so familiar that they rarely strike us as standing in need of any explanation in the first place.

October 11: Tomasello, Michael, and Amrisha Vaish. "Origins of human cooperation and morality." Annual review of psychology 64 (2013): 231–255.

November 8: Adam Morris & Fiery Cushman, Forthcoming. "A common framework for theories of norm compliance", Social Philosophy & Policy

Abstract: Humans often comply with social norms, but the reasons why are disputed. Here, we unify a variety of influential explanations in a common decision framework, and identify the precise cognitive variables that norms might alter to induce compliance. Specifically, we situate current theories of norm compliance within the reinforcement learning framework, which is widely used to study value-guided learning and decision-making. This framework offers an appealingly precise language to distinguish between theories, highlights the various points of convergence and divergence, and suggests novel ways in which norms might penetrate our psychology.

December 6: Rini, Regina A. "Making psychology normatively significant." The Journal of ethics 17, no. 3 (2013): 257-274

Abstract: The debate between proponents and opponents of a role for empirical psychology in ethical theory seems to be deadlocked. This paper aims to clarify the terms of that debate, and to defend a principled middle position. I argue against extreme views, which see empirical psychology either as irrelevant to, or as wholly displacing, reflective moral inquiry. Instead, I argue that moral theorists of all stripes are committed to a certain conception of moral thought—as aimed at abstracting away from individual inclinations and toward interpersonal norms—and that this conception tells against both extremes. Since we cannot always know introspectively whether our particular moral judgments achieve this interpersonal standard, we must seek the sort of self-knowledge offered by empirical psychology. Yet reflective assessment of this new information remains a matter of substantive normative theorizing, rather than an immediate consequence of empirical findings themselves.

Previous SoBIG discussion topics

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