John Mikhail (Georgetown University - Law Center) has posted Moral Grammar and Intuitive Jurisprudence: A Formal Model of Unconscious Moral and Legal Knowledge (THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LEARNING AND MOTIVATION: MORAL COGNITION AND DECISION MAKING, D. Medin, L. Skitka, C. W. Bauman, D. Bartels, eds., Vol. 50, Academic Press, 2009 ) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Could a computer be programmed to make moral judgments about cases of intentional harm and unreasonable risk that match those judgments people already make intuitively? If the human moral sense is an unconscious computational mechanism of some sort, as many cognitive scientists have suggested, then the answer should be yes. So too if the search for reflective equilibrium is a sound enterprise, since achieving this state of affairs requires demarcating a set of considered judgments, stating them as explanandum sentences, and formulating a set of algorithms from which they can be derived. The same is true for theories that emphasize the role of emotions or heuristics in moral cognition, since they ultimately depend on intuitive appraisals of the stimulus that accomplish essentially the same tasks. Drawing on deontic logic, action theory, moral philosophy, and the common law of tort, particularly Terry's five-variable calculus of risk, I outline a formal model of moral grammar and intuitive jurisprudence along the foregoing lines, which defines the abstract properties of the relevant mapping and demonstrates their descriptive adequacy with respect to a range of common moral intuitions, which experimental studies have suggested may be universal or nearly so. Framing effects, protected values, and implications for the neuroscience of moral intuition are also discussed.
And from the paper:
[W]e have discovered how certain fundamental legal conceptions can be utilized in this endeavor to explain an interesting range of moral intuitions, which prior experimental studies have indicated may be universal, or nearly so. By postulating latent knowledge of these and other basic legal norms, we can accurately predict human moral intuitions in a huge number and variety of actual cases. How this knowledge is acquired and put to use in different cultural, social, and institutional contexts thus emerge as pressing questions for law, philosophy, the social sciences, and the cognitive and brain sciences, broadly construed. As difficult to accept as it may seem, there are grounds for thinking that much of this knowledge may be innate or rooted in universal human instincts, as many cognitive scientists, philosophers, and jurists have often assumed. The argument is not conclusive, however, and more crossdisciplinary research is needed to clarify the relevant conceptual and evidentiary issues.
Mikhail's work is important, and this paper contains both a statement of the general view and the most thorough development yet of the moral grammar hypothesis. Highly recommended. Download it while its hot!