Multi‐system Moral Psychology

Fiery Cushman, Liane Young and Joshua D. Greene

in The Moral Psychology Handbook

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199582143
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191594496 | DOI:
Multi‐system Moral Psychology

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This chapter argues for a synthesis of two recent projects in moral psychology. One has proposed a division between “emotional” versus “cognitive” moral judgments, while another has proposed a division between “automatic” versus “controlled” moral judgments. These appear to describe the same underlying psychological systems: one that appears to give rise to automatic, rapid, and emotionally forceful moral intuitions, and another that appears to use controlled, effortful cognition to apply explicit moral principles. These psychological systems can explain a lot about the basic form of competing philosophical normative theories. Some core philosophical deontic principles are mirrored in ordinary people's emotional intuitions; meanwhile, people often use controlled cognitive processes to think about moral problems in utilitarian terms. The chapter concludes by arguing that this division is not hard-and-fast. There is evidence for reasoning from explicit deontic principles in ordinary people; meanwhile, utilitarian thought must depend on some underlying affective currency. This analysis is used to motivate several new questions facing the field of moral psychology.

Keywords: dual process theory; emotion; cognition; utilitarianism; deontology; intuition; reasoning; moral judgment

Chapter.  10635 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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