Emotion, Awareness, and Causality in Virtue Ethics and Decision Neuroscience
Dr. Warren S. Brown, Professor, Fuller Theological Seminary
Dr. Gregory Peterson, Associate Professor, South Dakota State University
Dr. Kevin Reimer, Professor, Azusa Pacific University
Dr. Michael L. Spezio, Assistant Professor, Scripps College & Visiting Scientist, California Institute of Technology
James A. Van Slyke, M.A., M.S., Adjunct Professor, Azusa Pacific University
The goal of this project is a deeper understanding of the nature of virtue in relation to the transcendent. How is virtue related to rationality, emotions, and concepts of ultimate value? A unique aspect of this project is the attempt to understand persons who are exemplars of virtue—either historical exemplars, such as holocaust rescuers, or persons whose behavior in economic games is exemplary of fairness and generosity. The project studies exemplars with respect to the implicit conceptual "schemas" by which they understand themselves and the world (including their orientation to something transcendent, or concepts of ultimate value), their psychological makeup, and their patterns of brain activity while making virtue-relevant decisions.
A core question of this project is the degree to which a virtuous person's mental "schemas" (of themselves and of the world) involve a representation of transcendent realities and ultimate values, and the degree to which these are important in their virtuous behavior and character. The research program will foster discussions among philosophers, theologians, psychologists, economists, and cognitive neuroscientists regarding the nature of transcendence and a theory of virtue that focuses on the personal traits and character of virtuous exemplars.
Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) of narratives from virtuous exemplars.
We will analyze self-descriptive narratives from 2 groups of exemplars of virtue:
- Holocaust rescuers
- Long-time caregivers in L'Arche communities for the mentally handicapped.
Texts will be analyzed with respect to target texts that denote religiously-based transcendence, non-religious transcendence, and non-transcendent human compassion.
Identification of new exemplars of virtue
We will attempt to identify individuals who manifest the virtues of fairness and generosity and compassion using 2 games similar to those used in modern economic research:
- The public goods game (willingness to continue to contribute to a fund for the public good when not everyone else is doing so).
- The rescuer game (willingness to take personal risk to aid others being unfairly treated)
Semantic analysis, using LSA narratives of from new exemplars
The same LSA probes will be used to analyze (#1, above) the self-descriptive narratives of the exemplars that we identify using the economic games (#2, above), and compare the outcomes to the LSA results from Holocaust rescuers and L'Arche caregivers.
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
fMRIs will be used to reveal patterns of brain activation while exemplars and non-exemplars are viewing videos of the actions of others, which manifest fairness, generosity, or compassion.
Discussions will be held among a consortium of philosophers, theologians, psychologists, economists, and cognitive neuroscientists regarding the nature of virtue, the adequacy of research paradigms with respect to virtue, and the nature of a transcendent view of the self and the world.
in the past academic year, the research team won an intensive competition to procure another $200, 000 in funding in order to continue the empirical research involving analysis of interviews with exemplars of virtue, economic games to detect the virtues of generosity and compassion, and functional magnetic brain imaging. the grant will also involve a multi-day conference, in cooperation with Caltech, exploring these topics. The conference is scheduled for spring of 2011. The research team also hosted a pre-symposium workshop and consultation at the 2009 American Association of Religion meeting, in Montreal Canada, regarding the implications of a science of moral actions and virtue ethics.