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Monday, October 21, 2019

Moral Judgment as Categorization

Cillian McHugh, and others
Originally posted September 17, 2019


We propose that the making of moral judgments is an act of categorization; people categorize events, behaviors, or people as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. This approach builds on the currently dominant dual-processing approach to moral judgment in the literature, providing important links to developmental mechanisms in category formation, while avoiding recently developed critiques of dual-systems views. Stable categories are the result of skill in making context-relevant categorizations. People learn that various objects (events, behaviors, people etc.) can be categorized as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Repetition and rehearsal then results in these categorizations becoming habitualized. According to this skill formation account of moral categorization, the learning, and the habitualization of the forming of, moral categories, occurs as part of goal-directed activity, and is sensitive to various contextual influences. Reviewing the literature we highlight the essential similarity of categorization principles and processes of moral judgments. Using a categorization framework, we provide an overview of moral category formation as basis for moral judgments. The implications for our understanding of the making of moral judgments are discussed.


We propose a revisiting of the categorization approach to the understanding of moral judgment proposed by Stich (1993).  This approach, in providing a coherent account of the emergence of stability in the formation of moral categories, provides an account of the emergence of moral intuitions.  This account of the emergence of moral intuitions predicts that emergent stable moral intuitions will mirror real-world social norms or collectively agreed moral principles.  It is also possible that the emergence of moral intuitions can be informed by prior reasoning, allowing for the so called “intelligence” of moral intuitions (e.g., Pizarro & Bloom, 2003; Royzman, Kim, & Leeman, 2015).  This may even allow for the traditionally opposing rationalist and intuitionist positions (e.g., Fine, 2006; Haidt, 2001; Hume, 2000/1748; Kant, 1959/1785; Kennett & Fine, 2009; Kohlberg, 1971; Nussbaum & Kahan, 1996; Cameron et al., 2013; Prinz, 2005; Pizarro & Bloom, 2003; Royzman et al., 2015; see also Mallon & Nichols, 2010, p. 299) to be integrated.  In addition, the account of the emergence of moral intuitions described here is also consistent with discussions of the emergence of moral heuristics (e.g., Gigerenzer, 2008; Sinnott-Armstrong, Young, & Cushman, 2010).

The research is here.