Thursday, July 17, 2008

Showdown: moral emotions vs moral reason

It's been a chicken and egg debate for centuries: which comes first, the moral emotions or the moral reasons?

One side of the debate would have us think that moral judgments are the result of our moral reasoning, and our emotions then serve to motivate our behaviour after the fact. Thus, Fred thinks Mary shouldn't have lied to him, so he becomes angry.

The other school of thought paints the opposite picture: Fred is angered by Mary's lying, so he judges it as morally wrong.

Well, the latter school, called social intuitionism, is starting to rack up evidence in its favour, showing that we often make quick snap moral evaluations in the form of intuitions, and reason only kicks in afterwards to present a justification.

And this process kicks up some interesting side effects, like that many of us a moral hypocrites, as reported on MSNBC.
Most of us, whether we admit it or not, are moral hypocrites. We judge others more severely than we judge ourselves.
Another example comes from Live Science.
A new study finds that a sense of moral superiority can lead to unethical acts, such as cheating. In fact, some of the best do-gooders can become the worst cheats.
All this raises some interesting questions about how our moral faculty works - and what that means for our moral systems. Certainly we'd like to think that we're guided by moral principles that are rational and non-contradictory. Yet it appears that no matter what our reason says, our moral intuitions get involved first and motivate our moral behaviour, leaving reason to pick up the pieces.

So much for the categorical imperative, eh?...


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home