Originally posted September 16, 2016
Last summer I was at a moral psychology conference in Chile, listening to speaker after speaker discuss research into how people think about sexuality, crime, taxation, and other politically and socially fraught issues. The consensus was that human moral reasoning is a mess—irrational, contradictory, and incoherent.
And how could it be otherwise? The evolutionary psychologists in the room argued that our propensity to reason about right and wrong arises through social adaptations calibrated to enhance our survival and reproduction, not to arrive at consistent or objective truth. And according to the social psychologists, we are continually swayed by irrelevant factors, by gut feelings and unconscious motivations. As the primatologist Frans de Waal once put it, summing up the psychological consensus: “We celebrate rationality, but when push comes to shove we assign it little weight.”
I think that this is mistaken. Yes, our moral capacities are far from perfect. But—as I’ve argued elsewhere, including in my forthcoming book on empathy—we are often capable of objective moral reasoning. And so we can arrive at novel, sometimes uncomfortable, moral positions, as when men appreciate the wrongness of sexism or when people who really like the taste of meat decide that it’s better to go without.
The article is here.