Originally published on 12 Dec 19
This paper shows that philosophers and laypeople commonly conceptualize moral truths as discoverable through intuition, argument, or some other process. It then argues that three empirically-supported theories of group polarization suggest that this Discovery Model of morality likely plays a substantial role in causing polarization—a phenomenon known to produce a wide variety of disturbing social effects, including increasing prejudice, selfishness, divisiveness, mistrust, and violence. This paper then uses the same three empirical theories to argue that an alternative Negotiation Model of morality—according to which moral truths are instead created by negotiation—promises to not only mitigate polarization but perhaps even foster its opposite: a progressive willingness to “work across the aisle to settle contentious moral issues cooperatively. Finally, I outline avenues for further empirical and philosophical research.
Laypeople and philosophers tend to treat moral truths as discoverable through intuition, argument, or other cognitive or affective process. However, we have seen that there are strong theoretical reasons—based on three empirically-supported theories of group polarization—to believe this Discovery Model of morality is a likely cause of polarization: a social-psychological phenomenon known to have a wide variety of disturbing social effects. We then saw that there are complementary theoretical reasons to believe that an alternative, Negotiation Model of morality might not only mitigate polarization but actually foster its opposite: an increasing willingness for to work together to arrive at compromises on moral controversies. While this paper does not prove the existence of the hypothesized relationships between the Discovery Model, Negotiation Model, and polarization, it demonstrates that there are ample theoretical reasons to believe that such relationships are likely and worthy of further empirical and philosophical research.