Colloquium in Savery Hall 264.
"Moral Psychology in Practice: Lessons from Alzheimer’s Disease and the ‘Terrible Twos’"
Associate Professor of Philosophy
The main aim of this talk is to delineate a thus far underappreciated category of motivating attitudes (desires) of special importance in our normative practices. The special status of these attitudes and the need to view them as a distinct category are easily missed unless one notices that even “marginal” agents, such as Alzheimer’s patients and very young children, are capable of holding these attitudes. I show that the attitudes in question, which I call “meaning-laden” desires, have a special normative status in two senses: (1) their satisfaction affects most profoundly the prudential interests of the agents who espouse them, and (2) they are the source of the unique moral standing of these agents as persons commanding special moral respect. Meaning-laden desires are in this way readily distinguished from mere appetites. However, given their special normative status, it is tempting to subsume them under another well-understood category of desires: desires grounded in the agent’s evaluative judgments. Bringing together multifarious evidence from developmental psychology, I show that meaning-laden desires cannot be equivalent to desires grounded in evaluative judgments because young children who already espouse them are not yet capable of grounding their desires in evaluative judgments. Meaning-laden desires thus have a special normative status not derived from the agent’s robust evaluations.
Professor Jaworska comes to UCR from Stanford University, where she taught courses on Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, and Medical Ethics, and was part of the Program in Ethics in Society. Earlier she worked in the Department of Clinical Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health. Her current project, entitled “Ethical Dilemmas at the Margins of Agency,” concerns the ethics of treatment of individuals whose status as persons is thought to be compromised or uncertain, such as Alzheimer’s patients, addicts, psychopaths, and young children. It is part of a larger project on the nature of value and the moral psychology of valuing. Professor Jaworska’s recent research has been published in journals including Philosophy and Public Affairs, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, and Ethics.