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Sunday, November 7, 2021

Moral Judgment as Categorization

McHugh, C., McGann, M., Igou, E. R., & 
Kinsella, E. L. (2021). 
Perspectives on Psychological Science 


Observed variability and complexity of judgments of "right" and "wrong" cannot be readily accounted for within extant approaches to understanding moral judgment. In response to this challenge, we present a novel perspective on categorization in moral judgment. Moral judgment as categorization (MJAC) incorporates principles of category formation research while addressing key challenges of existing approaches to moral judgment. People develop skills in making context-relevant categorizations. They learn that various objects (events, behaviors, people, etc.) can be categorized as morally right or wrong. Repetition and rehearsal result in reliable, habitualized categorizations. According to this skill-formation account of moral categorization, the learning and the habitualization of the forming of moral categories occur within goal-directed activity that is sensitive to various contextual influences. By allowing for the complexity of moral judgments, MJAC offers greater explanatory power than existing approaches while also providing opportunities for a diverse range of new research questions.

Summarizing the Differences 

Between MJAC and Existing Approaches Above, we have outlined how MJAC differs from existing theories in terms of assumptions and explanation. These theories make assumptions based on content, and this results in essentialist theorizing, either implicit or explicit attempts to define an “essence” of morality. In contrast, MJAC rejects essentialism, instead assuming moral categorizations are dynamical, context-dependent, and occurring as part of goal-directed activity. Each of the theories discussed is explicitly or implicitly (e.g., Schein & Gray, 2018, p. 41) based on dual-process assumptions, with related dichotomous assumptions regarding the cognitive mechanisms (where these mechanisms are specified). MJAC does not assume distinct, separable processes, adopting type-token interpretation, occurring as part of goal-directed activity (Barsalou, 2003, 2017), as the mechanism that underlies moral categorization. These differences in assumptions underlie the differences in the explanation discussed above.