Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Conscious Reasoning and Intuition in Moral Judgment

Cushman, Young, and Hauser. at Harvard, ask...
Is moral judgment accomplished by intuition or conscious reasoning?
...investigated three principles that guide moral judgments: (a) Harm caused by action is worse than harm caused by omission, (b) harm intended as the means to a goal is worse than harm foreseen as the side effect of a goal, and (c) harm involving physical contact with the victim is worse than harm involving no physical contact.
They note that
A critical ingredient missing from the current debate is an experimental method that clearly links data on moral judgment with data on moral justification. Without establishing that an individual uses a specific moral principle, it makes little sense to ask whether the content of that principle is directly available to conscious reasoning. Therefore, in the present study, we first identified three moral principles used by subjects in the judgment of moral dilemmas, and then explored the extent to which subjects generated justifications based on these principles....Asking whether these principles are invoked to explain moral judgments, we found that subjects generally appealed to the first and third principles in their justifications, but not to the second.
These experiments support the view:
that moral judgment can be accomplished by multiple systems: Some moral principles are available to conscious reflection—permitting but not guaranteeing a role for conscious reasoning—whereas others are better characterized by an intuitionist model.
Take Marc Hauser's Moral Sense Test


  1. what if "intuition" is not "genetic" but the natural condensation of pattern recognition based on a number of reasoning-based experiences?

  2. I don't think Hauser's work says anything about how the 'intution' subconcious, or whatever basis of a particular kind of moral choice is established. There is no evidence that it has to be genetic. I think it more likely that it is developmental.