Patients with Frontotemporal Dementia

Despite this risk, as we will see again in the context of virtue ethics (section 5, below), there is a growing recognition from a variety of sources – feminist ethics, virtue ethics, neurobiology, and comparative philosophy more broadly – of the central roles played by emotions in ethical decision-making. For example, Joshua D. Greene notes that “Patients with frontotemporal dementia, which typically involves emotional blunting, are about three times as likely as control subjects to give consequentialist responses”. By contrast, “People who are more empathetic, or induced to be more empathetic, give more deontological responses”.

These turns toward the integral role played by emotions in our decision-making process are further accompanied by feminist attention to what our embodiment means for our thinking/feeling about the world – how we know and navigate it, starting within our relationships. To begin with, embodiment entails a non-dual understanding of the relationship between self and body, as we saw explored especially by Sara Ruddick in her account of complete sex. In addition to emotions alongside reason, embodiment further highlights the role of tacit knowledge, knowledge that is learned through experience and encoded in our bodies. By definition, tacit knowledge deeply resists our efforts to make it explicit and articulate – say, for the purposes of invoking it in our ethical reflections. But its central role is apparent in our phrases “my gut feeling” (equivalent to the Danish and Norwegian magenfølelse) and “following my heart.” (As with the role of emotions, contemporary neurobiology and cognitive science confirm and helpfully refine these sensibilities – perhaps most strikingly with contemporary theories of “the embodied mind” and “embodied cognition”.

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Patients with Frontotemporal Dementia
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These non-dual understandings of body–mind (LeibSubjekt) and thinking/feeling are further important as they resonate with: (a) premodern Western understandings of our ethical life as involving both thought and feeling (e.g., in the Socratic and Aristotelian conception of phronēsis, a practical ethical judgment that is felt as much as thought); and (b) non-Western understandings, for example the Confucian view of the human being as incorporating xin, what Ames and Rosemont translate as “heart-and-mind,” to make the point that “there are no altogether disembodied thoughts for Confucius, nor any raw feelings altogether lacking (what in English would be called) ‘cognitive content’” (1998, 56). The role of emotions in ethics is thus a shared understanding across a literally global scale; as feminist ethics brings this role to the foreground, it thereby points toward what may be a “bridge” concept, a shared understanding between both Western and Eastern views that will play an important role in any global digital media ethics.