(un)common ground

a commonplace book

Reasoning vs. Rationalization

People don’t generally engage in moral reasoning…but moral rationalization: they begin with the conclusion, coughed up by an unconscious emotion, and then work backward to a plausible justification.

Steven Pinker, referring to the work of Jonathan Haidt, “The Moral Instinct,” NYT, January 13, 2008

While moral rationalization doesn’t necessarily mean that the moral stance is incorrect, any claim to reasoning would be invalid. It’s in the steps taken (or not) to reach a conclusion that its logic may be criticized. And it seems important that one’s judgments, one’s moral reactions, be exposed–that the subject ought to be aware of the source of his or her reactions/judgments/morals–in order to critically evaluate them.

Pinker concludes that the “moral instinct” is a psychologically/evolutionary-based process, explaining our gut-reactionary behavior.

Compare Claire Creffield discussing the implications of determining an apparently neurological/evolutionary basis for our moral quandaries: “Rather than attempting to reason ourselves into coherence, we should embark on the more modest task of reflecting on the actual experiences that are the stuff of our moral life so that we can see our untidy morality in all of its contradictory richness.”

Concluding that “just as we can never anticipate all the rippling bad outcomes for which we might find ourselves liable, so too can we never, in retrospect, trace the exact nature of our causal contribution to them,” Creffield adds, “It seems that only omniscience could achieve that.”


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This entry was posted on August 26, 2015 by and tagged , , .
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