Morphological rationalism and the psychology of moral judgment

Terence E Horgan, Mark Timmons

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38 Scopus citations


According to rationalism regarding the psychology of moral judgment, people's moral judgments are generally the result of a process of reasoning that relies on moral principles or rules. By contrast, intuitionist models of moral judgment hold that people generally come to have moral judgments about particular cases on the basis of gut-level, emotion-driven intuition, and do so without reliance on reasoning and hence without reliance on moral principles. In recent years the intuitionist model has been forcefully defended by Jonathan Haidt. One important implication of Haidt's model is that in giving reasons for their moral judgments people tend to confabulate - the reasons they give in attempting to explain their moral judgments are not really operative in producing those judgments. Moral reason-giving on Haidt's view is generally a matter of post hoc confabulation. Against Haidt, we argue for a version of rationalism that we call 'morphological rationalism.' We label our version 'morphological' because according to it, the information contained in moral principles is embodied in the standing structure of a typical individual's cognitive system, and this morphologically embodied information plays a causal role in the generation of particular moral judgments. The manner in which the principles play this role is via 'proceduralization' - such principles operate automatically. In contrast to Haidt's intuitionism, then, our view does not imply that people's moral reason-giving practices are matters of confabulation. In defense of our view, we appeal to what we call the 'nonjarring' character of the phenomenology of making moral judgments and of giving reasons for those judgments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-295
Number of pages17
JournalEthical Theory and Moral Practice
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2007


  • Confabulation
  • Intuitionism in moral psychology
  • Moral experience
  • Moral judgment
  • Moral phenomenology
  • Morphological rationalism
  • Rationalism in moral psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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