Chapter

Moral Dumbfounding and Moral Stupefaction

Daniel Jacobson

in Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199662951
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745195 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199662951.003.0012

Series: Oxford Studies In Normative Ethics

Moral Dumbfounding and Moral Stupefaction

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Several prominent moral psychologists and philosophers make much of a phenomenon they term moral dumbfounding, which is characterized by dogmatic insistence on a moral judgment for which no good reasons can be given. They hold that the phenomenon shows something important about ordinary moral judgment: that commonplace reasons offered for moral judgment are mere post hoc rationalizations of decisions made on other grounds. The chapter argues that the prominent and influential dumbfounding study does not work on its own terms, because its examples ignore crucial distinctions concerning harm and wrongness, and between dumbfounding and inarticulate reason-responsiveness. In fact there are good reasons for moral condemnation of every case they consider, but the problem is not just a matter of poorly chosen examples. By ignoring the symbolic and expressive aspects of action, the dumbfounders adopt an artificially narrow conception of reasons. Moreover, the fact that humans are sometimes dumbfounded and sometimes confabulate does not support their strong claims about the speciousness of reasons and reasoning in ordinary moral judgment.

Keywords: moral dumbfounding; Jonathan Haidt; empirical ethics; moral intuition; confabulation; reasons; moral reasoning

Chapter.  11225 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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