PhD defence: Søren Wenstøp

PhD Defense

11 May 2016 13:05

(updated: 11 May 2016 13:09)

PhD defence: Søren Wenstøp

On Monday 23 May 2016 Søren Wenstøp will hold a trial lecture on a prescribed topic and defend his thesis for the PhD degree at NHH.

Prescribed topic for the trial lecture

The Social and Cultural Influences on Moral Judgements: Contributions from Neurobiology

Time of the trial lecture

10:15 in Jebsen Centre, NHH

Title of the thesis

On the nature and sources of normativity: Normativity as grounded in affective human nature


The thesis argues that normativity - the core of ethics - is inherently grounded in affective human nature. According to this view, our subjective sense of 'ought' has biological origins that precede conscious awareness. On the basis of current accumulated scientific evidence relating to human emotions, it is deemed appropriate to update and restore the philosophical tradition of emotivism. Emotivism views practical ethics as necessarily (but not exclusively) expressive of and caused by emotions. Recent insights from psychology and neuroscience now permit a more detailed inquiry into the origins and nature of normativity qua emotionally based.

The thesis is organized into ten chapters. Chapter one gives an overview of normativity. An affective-emotional understanding of normativity is established as a proposition that deserves further investigation. Chapter two reviews the cumulative research on human emotions from various perspectives within three specific disciplinary inquiries, namely philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. Robust scientific support for an affective interpretation of human emotions is established. Chapter three connects the subjective mind with the objective brain (without reducing mind to brain), lending support to the theoretical perspective of dual-aspect monism. Chapter four gives a state-of-the-art account of the emotional systems in the human brain and where they are located. Chapter five argues in more detail for the theoretical position that normativity should be seen as affective. Chapter six discusses how normative decisions are emotionally and affectively based at the core, at the same time as they are regulated by and assisted by cognitive processes. Chapter seven presents the philosophical dual relativist position, rejecting various version of normative relativism at the same time as it urges us to accept meta-ethical relativism. Chapter eight presents a case against seeing values as objective, and the associated view of the world as enchanted with normativity. Chapter nine argues for restoring and scientifically updating the classical philosophical perspective of emotivism, developing it into the perspective I call neuroemotivism. Chapter ten gives a summary and some further reflections on where this leaves us. Some implications for professional ethics are drawn.

Wenstøp arrives at a philosophical position on ethics that is grounded in natural biological facts about human beings. According to this view, the sources of normativity are traceable down neuroanatomically to specific emotional neural circuits in the brain built upon on the evolutionary old structures of consciousness. The experience of normativity is seen as an affective emotional experience that is inherently subjective and affectively conscious.

Dual-aspect monism is deemed to be the best theoretical approximation to reconcile the internal subjective reality that we experience with physical external objective reality. Foundational normativity and fist-order morality is a premise for second-order socially constructed morality resulting from our interactions in the social world. Wenstøp argues that we are not fully aware of our inner emotional normative lives. Explicit normativity, capable of entering awareness as reasons and intentions in the minds of decision-makers, arises from affective implicit normativity of which we are essentially unaware.

Evidence suggests that emotions have an affective core that is subcortically based in 'hard-wired' emotional neural circuits in the brain. At least seven emotional circuits have been identified by neuroscience, with sufficient neuroanatomical and neurochemical specificity to map them and discern their basic workings. It can be theoretically conjectured that normative content is supplied by affective emotional brain structures, giving meaning to mental object representations of the external world (as well as those in imagination and dreams). It can be further conjectured that normative structure is superimposed on normative content by means of sophisticated cognitive capabilities involved in learning the social ways of the world. Normative content together with normative structure readily provide normative guidance for decision-making and deliberation whenever not obstructed from doing so.

Finally, Wenstøp argues that emotivism provides a satisfactory explanation of ethics or morality as fundamentally grounded in emotions and affect. One drawback of accepting emotivism is that complete and objective moral justification is likely to be an unattainable ideal. However, as Wenstøp points out, this ideal may not to be necessary in practical ethics so this loss should be discounted.


12:15 in Jebsen Centre, NHH

Members of the evaluation committee

Professor Rune Lines (chair), Department of Strategy and Management, Norwegian School of Economics

Professor Dag Gjerløw Aasland, University of Agder

Professor Hendrik Opdebeeck, University of Antwerp


Professor Knut Johannessen Ims, Department of Strategy and Management, Norwegian School of Economics

The trial lecture and thesis defence will be open to the public. Copies of the thesis will be available from

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