What does the frame problem tell us about moral normativity?

Terry Horgan, Mark Timmons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Within cognitive science, mental processing is often construed as computation over mental representations-i.e., as the manipulation and transformation of mental representations in accordance with rules of the kind expressible in the form of a computer program. This foundational approach has encountered a long-standing, persistently recalcitrant, problem often called the frame problem; it is sometimes called the relevance problem. In this paper we describe the frame problem and certain of its apparent morals concerning human cognition, and we argue that these morals have significant import regarding both the nature of moral normativity and the human capacity for mastering moral normativity. The morals of the frame problem bode well, we argue, for the claim that moral normativity is not fully systematizable by exceptionless general principles, and for the correlative claim that such systematizability is not required in order for humans to master moral normativity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-51
Number of pages27
JournalEthical Theory and Moral Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Computational cognitive science
  • Frame problem
  • Generalism
  • Moral normativity
  • Particularism
  • Relevance problem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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