Concept/Content motive or intent / macaque
Information caption A macaque with an expression of apparent deep thought. Mental phenomena pose a challenge for science. They are not directly observable. Philosophers have relied conventionally on introspection. In our daily lives we also make judgments about what other persons think, believe, or intend, or why they act. Both methods can be informative, yet they are also limited and possibly misleading, especially with animals. One common error is to anthropomorphize animals, or to interpret them idealistically in human terms. Biologists must take care in documenting or mapping behavior as a clear relationship between stimulus and response. They learn from psychological, anatomical and physiological studies, especially using recently developed neurological imaging technologies.
Yet in many approaches to morality (Table 1), feelings or reasoning at the level of mental phenomena, rather than on genetics, seem fundamental (Sober and Wilson 1998). In ordinary terms, morality may be less what you do so much as why you do it: are your motives or intentions "good," regardless of the actual outcome? Adopting this perspective introduces a whole new set of biological questions and explanatory aims and corresponding methods.
Inquiry caption This is a macaque, or rhesus monkey. Who is wondering what this animal might be thinking? How does this differ from thinking about the macaque's behavior genetically? What is important when addressing morality: the outcomes alone, or also the motive or intent? (Recall the various philosophical perspectives in Table 1.) How would a scientist go about trying to study such intangible internal states of mind?
Target: Orienting to neurophysiology and psychology as a way to address motive and/or intent as dimensions of moral behavior.
Photographer Gopinath S.
Credit Photo courtesy of Gopinath S.,
SIZE in pixels [file size] 670x489

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