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Outro: Why Moral Psychology?

[email protected]

Why study moral psychology?

I’m going to take the reasons I gave in reverse order.
Not a few researchers in moral psychology have argued that their discoveries about the psychological underpinnings of moral abilities have consequences for ethics and metaethics.
[Reason 3: according to many researchers, discoveries in moral psychology undermine various claims that have been made by philosophers in ethics; they may also challenge some philosophical methods. (This is going to be controversial.)]



You can see I put a question mark here; I am not convinced they are right. But anyone who studies ethics should at least understand the challenges posed by researchers in moral psychology. And they may well turn out to be right.
[Add something about the question mark missing from the module title: the science of good and evil?]


moral psychology [...] allows us to revisit and reevaluate ethical theories which are usually based on some common moral intuition.

Samuel J

I would like to see if moral psychology has any significant implications for [‘traditional ethical’] theories.

Anna B

Ethics [...] I was curious as to why there wasn’t much reference to psychology and studies of human behaviour but more based on intuitive theories.

Paul Theo

I was intrigued by the heavy reliance on appeals to intuition in normative arguments

I'm suggesting to do this only in a very limited and cautious way, if at all. Too little is known. Be an ethical gambler.

Hannah M

[...] building my capacity to critique how people decide what actions are the most ethical, whilst also giving myself the time to critique my own ethical beliefs.

Chris P

if we want to create an account of morality we should be examining the thought processes that go into making a moral judgement


political conflict,

e.g. over climate change

Reason 2: it enables us to better understand one aspect of political conflict, and will perhaps even eventually suggest ways of overcoming some political conflicts.
Relatedly, moral psychology matters for understanding why political change is sometimes difficult; especially in democratic societies.
I can’t provide much support for this claim now, and, being philosophers, one of our questions will be whether it is true at all. But I think there is a reasonable case to be made for it.
The idea that moral psychology can help us to understand, and perhaps even to overcome, political divides comes out sharply in research on attitudes to climate change ...

‘the sprouts are incipient tendencies to act, feel, desire, perceive, and think in virtuous ways. Each sprout corresponds to one of Mencius' four cardinal virtues:



(propriety), and


‘Even in the uncultivated person, these sprouts are active. They manifest themselves, from time to time, in virtuous reactions to certain situations’

(Norden, 2002, pp. 46--7)

‘characteristic of each sprout is a particular set of emotions or attitudes’

(Norden, 2002, p. 74)

Norden 2002 pp. 46--7, p. 74 on Mencius

‘someone suddenly saw a child about to fall into a well: everyone in such a situation would have a feeling of alarm and compassion---not because one sought to get in good with the child's parents, not because one wanted fame among their neighbors and friends, and not because one would dislike the sound of the child's cries’

Mencius, Mengzi 2A6

progress since 4th century BCE

Moral Foundations Theory

promises understanding of cultural differences

inspired much research

including moral re-framing

the Moral Foundations Questionnaire fails to exhibit scalar invariance

the theoretical underpinning of this Questionnaire---the Social Intuitionist Model---is incorrect


I wondered how morality differs amongst civilisations or how it differed through time


understanding how people come to associate more value to certain ideals/ beliefs.


Acquiring a scientific perspective on the ethics and reasons behind our actions and thoughts equips me with knowledge and theory I can apply to [...] Consumption and Sustainability


We can derive a lot of practical understanding from both psychology and the study of morality to help us interact with the world more effectively.

Link to moral reframing.


I hope to better understand where it [political polarisation] comes from and also maybe how it can be solved.


why certain groups in society perceive particular ethical issues to be more pressing than others

That was human sociality: the idea was that investingating moral psychology is worthwhile because it enables us to better understand human sociality.


human sociality


Why are we ethical beings in the first place?

Anna R

moral psychology is a useful tool linking both science and philosophy to understand our actions and thoughts, and thus answering debates we can’t solve intuitively nor scientifically.


because we can


Reading The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt sparked my interest towards studying moral philosophy [...] my original fascination in the psychological roots of ethical concepts still remains


I studied Psychology at A Level, Ethics was my favourite module [...] and this module appears to combine them


[...] completing the chain between neurobiology and ethics.

Ben N

I can imagine that investigating the psychological literature will be rather eye opening. I am also not entirely sure what the course entails


I'm intrigued



limits - there is more that we do not understand about the process than we do understand


models - we need better ways to model ethical abilities


ethics - even without being able to draw firm conclusions in favour of say, consequentialism, we can see in outline that there is an alternative way of approaching ethics

cultural variation

cultural variation - the evidence for this is limited, but we have seen that it is possible to study it rigorously and, importantly, to treat claims about which foundations there are as testable hypotheses rather than a priori assumptions (Norden 2002 on Mendus: 4th century BCE philosopher Mendus has four sprouts; until now we are still following Mendus’ methods)


politics - and of approaching political debates too