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Experiments in Ethics, by Kwame Anthony Appiah

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Kwame2Book Note: by Roger Gilman
Experiments in Ethics, by Kwame Anthony Appiah;
Harvard University Press, 2008; $22.95
ISBN 10: 0-674-02609-8 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

In Experiments in Ethics, Anthony Appiah, a Princeton University Professor of Philosophy and currently the President of the American Philosophical Association, explores how the new empirical moral psychology relates to the age-old project of philosophical ethics. In recent years, new work by scientists of human nature, what used to be called “the moral sciences” – including experimental and cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, evolutionary theorists, and behavioral economics – have explored the way we arrive at moral judgments. They have called into question commonplaces about character and they offer, what some regard as “troubling” explanations for various moral intuitions. Can such research tell us what we should do?


What is the relation of science and ethics regarding the authority of moral reasons? Appiah develops a middle way explanation that neither denies a relation of some kind nor reduces one to the other. He traces an intellectual history from Plato and Aristotle to the present of the exploding “new” approach called “experimental philosophy”: dialogue. His summary of recent experiments and claims made for them by scientists is lucid and balanced. In the end Appiah offers a fresh look at ethics in the classical tradition.

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