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Title: Imaginative simulation in the moral life
Author: Johnson, Matthew Kuan
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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"Imaginative simulation" refers to our capacity to create, in our mind's eye and in our bodies, perceptual and experiential states that feel as-if we were encountering those states in reality (such as when we vividly remember certain events from our lives, project ourselves into the first-personal experience of the character in a novel, and so on). My thesis suggests that analytic moral philosophy would benefit from a sustained consideration of the role that imaginative simulation plays in our moral thinking. Indeed, it is because imaginative simulation involves the same critical sensorimotor, perceptual, affective, and conative states as those used in veridical experiences (i.e. there is a "functional equivalence" between the neural states involved in imaginatively simulating being in a situation as in actually experiencing it), that imaginative simulation makes possible certain important forms of moral perception and moral learning. Additionally, because the same crucial processes are involved in imaginative simulation as in actual experience, imaginative simulation can also be used to train and engrain certain (virtuous or vicious) patterns of perception and behaviour. In other words, imaginative simulation allows moral knowledge and thinking to be transformative, and not merely representational. I begin by showing how imaginative simulation, by providing a more "immersed" perspective on moral cases, makes certain crucial forms of moral perception possible, can be used to solve the problem of moral motivation, and can be used in moral development. I then provide an empirically-motivated account of the processes underlying imaginative simulation. Next, I develop a psychological model of imaginative simulation's role in moral reasoning, and show how it can explain certain puzzling findings in experimental moral psychology and experimental philosophy. This psychological model is then used to show how our moral reasoning can go astray, particularly when using thought experiments, and I provide some guidelines for the use of thought experiments in the development of moral theory. In the final part of the thesis, I show how imaginative simulation provides a new framework for virtue theory and weakness of will.
Supervisor: Holton, Richard Sponsor: Gates Cambridge Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: moral philosophy ; moral psychology ; mental imagery ; moral perception ; moral epistemology ; moral reasoning ; moral learning ; embodied cognition ; virtue ; vice ; character ; weakness of will ; akrasia ; temptation ; thought experiments ; trolley problems