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Kadish Workshop in Law, Philosophy, and Political Theory: Sydney Levine, Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence

Friday, March 8, 2024 @ 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Sydney Levine is a research scientist at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.  She studies the cognitive science of moral judgment and how that can help us build AI systems that can successfully navigate the human moral world. She recently completed a postdoc at Harvard and MIT and less recently completed a PhD at Rutgers. 

Paper and Abstract:

Resource-Rational Contractualism: A Triple Theory of Moral Cognition

Morality guides people with conflicting interests towards agreements of mutual benefit. We therefore might expect our moral psychology to be organized around the logic of bargaining, negotiation, and agreement. Yet, while “contractualist” methods play an important role in moral philosophy, they are starkly underrepresented in moral psychology. From a contractualist perspective, the ideal moral judgments would be those rendered by rational bargaining agents—a perspective shared with economic, biological, and cultural models of game theory. As a practical matter, however, investing time and effort in negotiating every interpersonal interaction is unfeasible. Instead, we propose, people use abstractions and heuristics to efficiently identify mutually beneficial arrangements. We argue that many well-studied elements of our moral minds, such as reasoning about others’ utilities (“consequentialist” reasoning) or evaluating intrinsic properties of certain actions (“deontological” reasoning), can be naturally understood as resource-rational features of a contractualist moral psychology. Moreover, this view explains the flexibility of our moral minds—how our moral rules and standards get created, updated and overridden and how we deal with novel cases we have never seen before. Thus, the apparently fragmentary nature of our moral psychology—commonly described in terms of systems in conflict—can be largely unified around the principle of finding mutually beneficial agreements under resource constraints. The resulting “triple theory” of moral cognition naturally integrates contractualist, consequentialist and deontological concerns.

About the Workshop:

A workshop for presenting and discussing work in progress in moral, political, and legal theory. The central aim is to provide an opportunity for students to engage with philosophers, political theorists, and legal scholars working on normative questions. Another aim is to bring together people from different disciplines who have strong normative interests or who speak to issues of potential interest to philosophers and political theorists.

The theme for the Spring 2024 workshop is “Intelligence: Human, Animal, Artificial,” and we will host scholars working in Philosophy, Biology, Psychology, Law, and Engineering. Our underlying concern will be the normative implications of different ideas of what intelligence is and can do.

This semester the workshop is co-taught by Christopher Kutz and Josh Cohen.


141 Law Building


Kadish Center for Morality, Law & Public Affairs

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