Spring 2019

“Compassion is the basis of morality.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer

“The rules of morality are not the conclusion of our morality.”
– David Hume

“By exploring the political and moral colorings of discoveries about what makes us tick, we can have a more honest science and a less fearful intellectual milieu.”
– Stephen Pinker


Moral psychology is the interdisciplinary field that draws on both normative theorizing in philosophy and empirical research and modelling in psychology and other social sciences. Despite popular misconception, many philosophical claims beget empirical hypotheses that can be tested. Scientific investigation of human thinking and behavior and the norms thereof are inspired by, speak to, or assume various philosophical theories. As the field of moral psychology has developed recently, moral philosophers been increasing offering philosophical interpretations of empirical work in psychology and other social sciences, and at times even conducting their own experiments. Likewise, psychologists empirically examining human morality have become increasingly philosophically self-aware. The resulting literature is increasingly conversant in both cutting-edge scientific findings and long-standing philosophical theories.

This course examines the intersection of philosophy and psychology on questions of human nature and how we should live. We will focus on many of the main concepts and theories in contemporary moral psychology. Students will learn how psychology and philosophy enrich one another. Readings will primarily focus on contemporary empirical findings with philosophical underpinnings discuss in class. Students will learn to criticize methodologies and analyses in the empirical literature. The following topics will be covered this term include preferences, responsibility, emotions, character, cultural and moral disagreement, cooperation, altruism, evolution and morality, dual-process theory, and wellbeing.


Students will:

  • gain an understanding of many of the main concepts, debates, and theories in contemporary moral psychology,
  • learn how empirical findings help answer normative questions or challenge normative views,
  • learn to criticize methodologies and analyses in the empirical literature,
  • develop the ability to reveal philosophical assumptions of themselves and others through dialogue,
  • learn to engage in reasoned debate and discussion with others,
  • improve skills in active reading to understand and explain philosophical texts, and
  • improve your ability to think critically, reason soundly, and write clearly.



Deadlines at Glance

  • 3 Sentence (Daily Reading Engagement) — Every Class Meeting (before class)
  • Sign-ups for Commentaries (deadline) — January 31
  • Commentary 1 and 2 (for any reading on or before) — March 21
  • Term Paper/Project: Topics for approval — April 11
  • Term Paper/Project: Detailed Proposal or Outline — April 23
  • Commentary 3 and 4 (for any reading on or before) — May 2
  • Research Paper (date and time set by university) — May 10 by 10:30 am


1/15 Alfano, Moral Psychology: An Introduction, Introduction (pg. 1-23)
1/17 Alfano, Moral Psychology: An Introduction, Introduction (pg. 1-23)
(Recommended) Doris, J. Stich, S., Phillips, J., & Walmsley, L. (2017) Moral psychology: Empirical approaches. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


1/22 Alfano, Moral Psychology: An Introduction, Chapter 4: Character (pg. 112-137)
1/24 Hall, L., Johansson, P., & Strandberg, T. (2012). Lifting the veil of morality: Choice blindness and atti- tude reversals on a self-transforming survey. PLOS One (blackboard)

Lichtenstein, S. & Slovic, P. (1971). Reversals of preference between bids and choices in gambling deci- sions. Journal of Experimental Psychology 89(1):46-55 (blackboard)

Slovic, P. & Lichtenstein, S. (1983). Preference Reversals: A Broader Perspective. Economic Review 73(4): 596-605. (blackboard)


1/29 Alfano, Moral Psychology: An Introduction, Chapter 2: Responsibility (pg. 49-80)

Shaun Nichols & Joshua Knobe. (2007) Moral Responsibility and Determinism. Noûs 41 (4):663–685. (blackboard)

Peter Strawson. (1962). Freedom and resentment. Proceedings of the British Academy 48: 1-25. (black- board)


2/5Alfano, Moral Psychology: An Introduction, Chapter 3: Emotions (pg. 81-111)
2/7 Nina Strohminger. (2014). Disgust talked about. Philosophy Compass 9(7): 478-493. (blackboard)

Schnall, S., Haidt, J., Clore, G. L., & Jordan, A. H. (2008). Disgust as embodied moral judgment. Person- ality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1096-1109. (blackboard)
2/12 Greene, J. D., Sommerville, R. B., Nystrom, L. E., Darley, J. M., & Cohen, J. D. (2001). An fMRI investiga- tion of emotional engagement in moral judgment. (blackboard)

Greene, J. D. (2007). The secret joke of Kant’s soul. In W. Sinnott-Armstrong (Ed.), Moral Psychology, Volume 3: The Neuroscience of Morality: Emotion, Disease, and Development (pp. 35-79). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
2/14 Koenigs, M., Young, L., Adolphs, R., Tranel, D., Cushman, F., Hauser, M., & Damasio, A. (2007). Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements. Nature, 446, 908-911.
2/14Feinberg, M., Willer, R., Antonenko, O., & John, O. P. (2012). Liberating reason from the passions: Over- riding intuitionist moral judgments through emotion reappraisal. Psychological Science, 23, 788-795.


2/19 Alfano, Moral Psychology: An Introduction, Chapter 4: Character (pg. 112-137)
2/21 Merritt, M. (2000). Virtue ethics and situationist personality psychology. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 3 (4):365-383. (blackboard)
2/26 Bates, T. & Kleingeld, P.. (2018). Virtue, vice, and situationism. In N. Snow (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Virtue (pp. 524-545). Oxford: Oxford University Press. (blackboard)
2/28 Slingerland, E. (2011). The Situationist Critique and Early Confucian Virtue Ethics. Ethics. 121. (blackboard)

Cultures and Moral Disagreement

3/5 Alfano, Moral Psychology: An Introduction, Chapter 5: Character (pg. 112-137)
3/7 No Class
3/12 No Class – Spring Break
3/14 No Class – Spring Break
3/19Hanno Sauer. (under review) There is (almost) no disagreement. (blackboard)
3/21 Curry, O.S., Mullins, D.A., & Whitehouse, H. (forthcoming). Is it good to cooperate? Testing the theory of morality-as-cooperation in 60 societies. Current Anthropology. (blackboard)


3/26 Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (2002). Homo reciprocans. Nature, 415, 125-127. (blackboard)
3/26 Henrich, J., McElreath, R., Barr, A., Ensminger, J., Barrett, C., Bolyanatz, A., … & Ziker, J. (2006). Costly punishment across human societies. Science, 312, 1767-1770. (blackboard)
3/28 Herrmann, B., Thöni, C., & Gächter, S. (2008). Antisocial punishment across societies. Science, 319, 1362-1367. (blackboard)
3/28 Dreber, A., Rand, D. G., Fudenberg, D., & Nowak, M. A. (2008). Winners don’t punish. Nature, 452, 348- 351. (blackboard)

Altruism and Egoism

4/2 C. Daniel Batson. (2000). Unto Others: A Service… and a Disservice. Journal of Consciousness Studies 7(1-2): 207-210. (blackboard)
4/2 Elliott Sober & David Sloan Wilson. (2000). Morality and Unto Others. Journal of Consciousness Stud- ies 7 (1-2):257-268. (blackboard)
4/4 Stephen Stich, John M. Doris, & Erica Roedder. (2010). Altruism. In The Moral Psychology Handbook, John M. Doris & The Moral Psychology Research Group (Eds.). Oxford: Oxford. (blackboard)

Evolution and Morality

4/9 Owen Flanagan, Hagop Sarkissian, & David Wong. (2011). Naturalizing ethics. In W. Sinnott-Arm- strong (Ed.), Moral psychology, Vol. 1. The evolution of morality: Adaptations and innateness (pp. 1-25). Cambridge, MA, US: MIT Press. (blackboard)
4/11 Eduoard Machery & Ron Mallon. (2010). Evolution of Morality. In The Moral Psychology Handbook, John M. Doris & The Moral Psychology Research Group (Eds.). Oxford: Oxford. (blackboard)
4/16 William Harms & Brian Skryms. (2008). Evolution of Moral Norms. In M. Ruse (ed). The Oxford Hand- book of Philosophy of Biology. Oxford: Oxford. (blackboard)
4/18 Guy Kahane. (2010). Evolutionary Debunking Arguments. Noûs 41: 45: 103-125. (blackboard)


4/23 Dan Haybron (2011). Happiness. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (blackboard)
4/25 Anna Alexandrova. (2008).First person reports and the measurement of happiness. Philosophical Psychology 21(5): 571-583. (blackboard)
4/25 Vidya S. Athota. (2013). The role of moral emotions in happiness. The Journal of Happiness & Well-Be- ing, 1(2), 115-120. (blackboard)
4/30 Bryce Huebner, Susan Dwyer, & Marc Hauser. (2009). The role of emotion in moral psychology. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 13(1): 1-6. (blackboard)
5/2 Jonathan Haidt, J. Patrick Seder, & Selin Kesebir. (2008). Hive Psychology, Happiness, and Public Policy. The Journal of Legal Studies 37(52). (blackboard)
5/7 Kristján Kristjánsson. (2010). Positive psychology, happiness, and virtue: The troublesome conceptual issues. Review of General Psychology, 14(4), 296-310. (blackboard)

Course Grading and Requirements

3 Sentence (Reading Engagement Assignments)

There are assigned readings for every class meeting. For each reading (accept the first), students are required to identify 3 sentences from the reading and submit them online through Blackboard prior to class. Even in cases of excused absences due to university travel (e.g., sports), this assignment is due at the assigned time and cannot be made up. These sentences can be any of the three following types and should be labelled:

Key Sentence (KS): A sentence that summarizes a main point of the reading or a section of it or that makes a claim that is central to the author’s main argument in the reading.

Bull (Bull): A sentence which makes a claim that you believe to be wildly implausible. (For example: “As everyone knows, the moral law requires of us all that we hop on one foot at least once a day and give Prof. Robinson half our salary.”)

What? (???): A sentence that is completely incomprehensible to you; you have no idea what it means.

Students should be prepared to report in class what sentences they selected and to explain why. For full credit, students must submit at least 2 KS’s and 1 other sentence of any type. When two or more readings are listed for a class meeting, 3 sentences are required for the day, not per reading. Students may miss up to 4 reading participation assignments over the course of the term and still receive full credit.


Students are required to write four, short commentaries on four different assigned (or recommended) readings. A commentary must be between 600 and 1,000 words.

For each reading on the schedule, at maximum of 3 students may write a commentary on it, in order to incorporate students’ commentaries into class discussion. Commentaries are due on the day for which the reading is assigned and before class. A sign- up sheet is available on Blackboard. Signing up early is strongly recommended. They are to be turned in on Blackboard; bring to class a copy (digital or hard) or notes on the commentary in order to present them very briefly in class if requested. Students may not write a commentary on a reading after its assigned date. The first two commentaries are due before the date listed above.

These commentaries are designed to (a) improve your ability to read scientific and philosophical texts carefully and critically and to write clear and concise arguments in response to them, (b) serve as a potential basis for the research paper, (c) provide additional material for in-class discussion, and (d) allow students to have an ongoing dialogue with the instructor outside of class.

Commentaries consist of three parts:

  1. A brief and focused reconstruction of one of the main arguments in the reading,
  2. One of the following:
    1. An objection to a central premise of this argument,
    2. development of implausible implications of its conclusion
    3. problems with experimental designs or with conclusions drawn from experimental results, and
  3. A friendly suggestion about how to revise the reading in response to your point in (2). This can include a defense of the author’s argument against a likely objection presented in (2.1).

Term Paper/Project

There will be one term paper, due on the date of the final. There are two options for this paper/project:

  1. A theoretical/philosophical paper (2500-3000 words) that argues for (or against) a particular normative claim and engages with the relevant scientific literature (including outside research beyond assigned readings),
  2. A research proposal (1500-3000 words) for a new experiment to investigate a normative question with full explanation of your research question, relevant philosophical/scientific literature, hypothesis, and methods. For this option, students are strongly encouraged to develop their hypothesis after working through McGuire’s creative hypothesis generation steps: McGuire, W. J. (1997). Creative hypothesis generating in psychology: Some useful heuristics. Annual Review of Psychology, 48(1), 1-30. (Available on blackboard).
  3. An audio or video podcast. This can be done independently or with a partner. The required length depends upon the format: audio podcasts will be longer, while video podcasts can be shorter if visual effects (animations, for instance) are used. The rough guideline is approximately 15-20 minutes for audio podcasts or 10-12 minutes for video (per student). A script must be written beforehand and (at least mostly) followed during the podcast. The script and the audio or video must be submitted
  4. to Blackboard (links to Youtube are acceptable).

For all options, topics must first be approved by the instructor by email or verbally at a meeting during office hours. Then detailed proposals or outlines are required and due (submitted via blackboard) by the date listed above. Topic approval and the detailed proposal or outline are worth 7% of the overall course grade.

The final paper/project/podcast are to be submitted via Blackboard. Papers/scripts will be subject to an automated plagiarism checker (Turnitin or similar). Plagiarism will result at minimum in zero credit for the assignment. Each student is individually responsible for ensuring the paper/project/podcast is successfully submitted.

Course Policies

Attendance and Participation

Since philosophy is hard and much of the course will be discussion based, attendance is necessary for learning. It is your responsibility to be in class. Attendance will be taken regularly at the beginning of class. You may miss up to five class days without penalty, but on the sixth missed day your overall grade in the course may be reduced by one-half grade for each day missed beyond the fifth. Falsifying the attendance of another student by signing in for them carries the penalty of immediate course failure. (See Academic Misconduct below.) I do not provide make-up lectures for students who were absent from class. (If, however, a student has problems understanding certain points about material covered during an absence, I will help by answering specific questions.)

Please provide documentation if absences are due to legitimate reasons. (That means come talk to me.) Excused absences are absences excused by the university for official purposes, those excused by me in advance, or those excused subsequently for documented reasons (e.g., health problem, family emergency). I will review material from an excused absence, after the student has obtained notes from a classmate and if the student has clearly read the assignment first.

Participation includes being in class on time, having the assigned text for the day, and being attentive in class. Simply being physically present in class is not sufficient to attain a passing attendance grade. As such, it is necessary to demonstrate some form of active engagement in the learning process.

Besides being on time, and silencing cell phones, I must stress the importance of everyone allowing for an open forum for discussion, so that we are all free to speak our minds on any topic without condemnation or hostility. Our job is to examine and evaluate ideas, not each other.

Reading Assignments

The schedule for reading assignments is provided below. They are to be read prior to that day’s class. Students are required to always bring the assigned reading to class. Students are required to have either a printed copy or a means of accessing the PDF in class. Please download them before class.


Plagiarism on an exam or dialogue will result in no credit for the assignment and a report to the department chair and dean. Repeated plagiarism on more than one assignment can result in an automatic F for the course. Plagiarism, according to Texas A&M University-Kingsville, “includes, but is not limited to, the use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without acknowledgment, documentation or citation. It also includes the unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or agency engaged in the selling of term papers or other academic materials” (http://www.tamuk.edu/agnrhs/resources_current/policy/plagiarism.html).

In the context of this course, plagiarism includes, but is not limited to, quoting from an assigned reading on an exam without putting it in quotation marks. Students must write their exams separately, independently, and without outside assistance. It is each student’s responsibility to ensure that their answers on the exam are her/his own alone and do not match those of another student either from the same class, another section, or a previous semester.

It is each student’s responsibility to ensure that his or her submitted work adheres to the university’s policy on plagiarism and cheating. If you need help understanding this policy or what constitutes plagiarism, please contact me.

Office Hours

My office hours are listed above. My door is open and I highly encourage students to come see me. My job is to help you succeed, and one of the best times I can do that is during office hours. So please come see me. If my office hours don’t work for you, let me know and something can be arranged.


I am available by email and you are welcome to contact me with questions. I generally respond the same day. However, you should think of any email to me as something formal, instead of as a casual email to a friend. You should include a subject, a salutation, and your name. I advise you read the following as well: http://www.wikihow.com/Email-a-Professor.

Cell Phones, Computers, & Tape Recorders

(1) You may not use your phone during class (for calling or texting). (2) Unless otherwise stated, you may not use a computer (or tablet) in class, including to take notes or to view an assigned online reading. Studies have shown usage of computers in class leads to more distraction and lower grades for you and those around you and that you learn more by taking handwritten notes. (3) You may only record (audio or video) class sessions if you obtain my permission beforehand.


All assignments must be turned in by the date and time specified. I do not accept late work unless class was missed for a documented emergency that arose without time for you to submit your work in advance. If you know that you will miss a class session prior to that session, you will need to submit your assignment in advance.


A (100-90): Outstanding. The student displays thorough mastery of all material and genuine engagement with the subject matter. This grade is reserved for those individuals who attain the highest levels of excellence in thought and expression. Exceptionally good writing.
B (80-89): Good. The student displays accurate understanding of the bulk of material. Writing is clear and free of mechanical errors.
C (70-79): Adequate. The student displays basic grasp of roughly three-fourths of the course material. There may arise occasional misunderstanding or inaccuracy. Writing is acceptable.
D (60-69): Marginal. The student displays a grasp of the course material that deserves credit. Quality of apprehension of material indicates lack of effort and/or lack of aptitude.
F (<60): Unacceptable. The student displays virtually no grasp of the course material.

Names and Pronouns

If you prefer to be referred to by a different name or with a different pronoun, please let the instructor know. Please contact the instructor If you have any questions or concerns.

Changes to Syllabi

The standards and requirements set forth in this syllabus may be modified at any time by the course instructor. Notice of such changes will be by announcement in class, by email notice, and by changes to PHIL 1301 – Introduction to Philosophy this syllabus posted on Blackboard.

University Policies

Six Drop Policy

The following provision does not apply to students with Texas public college or university credits prior to Fall 2007. The Texas Senate Bill 1231 specifies the number of course drops allowed to a student without penalty. After a student has dropped six courses, a grade of QF will normally be recorded for each subsequent drop. Additional information on Senate Bill 1231 is available at the Registrar’s Office at (361) 593-2811 and at http://www.tamuk.edu/registrar/drop_policy.html.

Students with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disability. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation please contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) as early as possible in the term at (361) 593-2904. DRC is located in the Life Service and Wellness building at 1210 Retama Drive.

Classroom Conduct Expectations

Students are referred to the Student Code of Conduct section of the Student Handbook.

Students are expected to assume individual responsibility for maintaining a productive learning environment and conduct themselves with the highest regard for respect and consideration of others. Ongoing or single behaviors considered distracting will be addressed by the faculty member initially, but if the behavior becomes excessive and the student refuses to respond to the faculty member’s efforts, the issue will be referred to the Dean of Students. In the case of serious disruptive behavior in a classroom, the instructor will first request compliance from the student and if the student fails to comply, the instructor has the authority to ask the student to leave the classroom. The student is expected to comply with the instructor’s request and may subsequently contest this action using procedures established by the department. If the student fails to leave after being directed to do so, assistance may be obtained from other university personnel, including the University Police Department. The incident shall be handled as an academic misconduct matter using established departmental procedures for academic misconduct to determine if the student should be allowed to return to the classroom.

Academic Misconduct

Students are expected to adhere to the highest academic standards of behavior and personal conduct in this course and all other courses. Students who engage in academic misconduct are subject to University disciplinary procedures. Students are expected to be familiar with the current Student Handbook, especially the section on academic misconduct, which discusses conduct expectations and academic dishonesty rules.

Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to:

  1. Cheating: deception in which the student misrepresents that he/she has mastered information on an academic exercise that he/she has not mastered; giving or receiving aid unauthorized by the professor on assignments or examinations.
  2. Aid of academic dishonesty: Intentionally facilitating any act of academic dishonesty. Tampering with grades or taking part in obtaining or distributing any part of a scheduled test.
  3. Fabrication: use of invented information or falsified research.
  4. Plagiarism: unacknowledged quotation, and/or paraphrase of someone else’s work, ideas, or data as one’s own in work submitted for credit. Failure to identify information or essays from the internet and submitting them as one’s own work also constitutes plagiarism. Please be aware that the University subscribes to the Turnitin plagiarism detection service. Your paper may be submitted to this service at the discretion of the instructor.
  5. Lying: deliberate falsification with the intent to deceive in written or verbal form as it applies to an academic submission.
  6. Bribery: providing, offering or taking rewards in exchange for a grade, an assignment, or the aid of academic dishonesty.
  7. Threat: an attempt to intimidate a student, staff or faculty member for the purpose of receiving an unearned grade or in an effort to prevent reporting of an Honor Code violation.

Other forms of academic misconduct include but are not limited to:

  1. Failure to follow published departmental guidelines, professor‘s syllabi, and other posted academic policies in place for the orderly and efficient instruction of classes, including laboratories, and use of academic resources or equipment.
  2. Unauthorized possession of examinations, reserved library materials, laboratory materials or other course related materials.
  3. Failure to follow the instructor or proctor‘s test-taking instructions, including but not limited to not setting aside notes, books or study guides while the test is in progress, failing to sit in designated locations and/or leaving the classroom/ test site without permission during a test.
  4. Prevention of the convening, continuation or orderly conduct of any class, lab or class activity. Engaging in conduct that interferes with or disrupts university teaching, research or class activities such as making loud and distracting noises, repeatedly answering cell phones/text messaging or allowing pagers to beep, exhibiting erratic or irrational behavior, persisting in speaking without being recognized, repeatedly leaving and entering the classroom or test site without authorization, and making physical threats or verbal insults to the faculty member, or other students and staff.
  5. Falsification of student transcript or other academic records; or unauthorized access to academic computer records.
  6. Nondisclosure or misrepresentation in filling out applications or other university records.
  7. Any action which may be deemed as unprofessional or inappropriate in the professional community of the discipline being studied.
Harassment /Discrimination

Texas A&M University-Kingsville will investigate all complaints that indicate sexual harassment, harassment, or discrimination may have occurred by the facts given by the complainant. Sexual harassment of anyone at Texas A&M University-Kingsville is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Any member of the university community violating this policy will be subject to disciplinary action. A person who believes he/she has been the victim of sexual harassment, harassment, or discrimination may pursue either the informal or the formal complaint resolution procedure. A complaint may be initially made to the complainant’s immediate supervisor, a department head, any supervisory employee, the Dean of Students (593-3606), or the Office of Compliance (593-4758). Regardless of who the complaint is filed with, the Compliance Office will be notified of the complaint so it can be investigated.