Social Intuitionism

jonathan haidt

Social intuitionism is a movement in moral psychology that arose in contrast to more heavily rationalist theories of morality, like that of Lawrence Kohlberg. Kohlberg developed a stage theory of moral reasoning that he claimed accounts for people’s moral behavior. More sophisticated reasoning, he asserted, should lead one to more consistent moral action, because one realizes that moral principles are prescriptive in nature and so demand action from the self. NYU psychologist Jonathan Haidt greatly de-emphasizes the role of reasoning in reaching moral conclusions. 

Haidt asserts that moral judgment is primarily given rise to by intuition with reasoning playing a very marginalized role in most of our moral decision-making. Conscious thought-processes serves as a kind of post hoc justification of our decisions. His main evidence comes from studies of ‘moral dumbfounding’ where people have strong moral reactions but fail to establish any kind of rational principle to explain their reaction. He suggests that we have affective heuristics (mental shortcuts) which are unconscious that generate our reactions to morally charged situations and our moral behavior. He suggests that if people reason about morality, it is independent of or at least processes causing moral decisions to be made.

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2 Comments to “Social Intuitionism”

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