Sensitive to Reasons: Moral Intuition and the Dual Process Challenge to Ethics

Dissertation, (2022)
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This dissertation is a contribution to the field of empirically informed metaethics, which combines the rigorous conceptual clarity of traditional metaethics with a careful review of empirical evidence. More specifically, this work stands at the intersection of moral psychology, moral epistemology, and philosophy of action. The study comprises six chapters on three distinct (although related) topics. Each chapter is structured as an independent paper and addresses a specific open question in the literature. The first part concerns the psychological features and cognitive function of moral intuition. Chapter 1 (“Moral intuition, strength, and metacognition”) is focused on the concept of intuitive strength, which is one of the defining features of moral intuition. I provide a metacognitive account of intuitive strength and show why such a view is preferable to emotional or quasi-perceptual accounts. Then, in Chapter 2 (“Dual process reflective equilibrium”), I will discuss the interplay between intuition and reflection in moral reasoning. I will contend that the influential “default-interventionist” model of reasoning, theorized by Greene, is insufficiently supported by the evidence. In light of some recent studies, I outline an account of moral reasoning in which intuition and reflection are not in conflict but cooperate to reach a reflective goal. I call this model dual process reflective equilibrium. The aim of the first part is descriptive, i.e., it argues for an accurate understanding of moral intuition and reasoning in light of the available empirical evidence. In contrast, the second part addresses a normative question: is a subject epistemically justified in forming a belief on the basis of a moral intuition? Skeptics of moral intuition argue that accepting moral intuitions should be the exception rather than the rule to the extent that epistemically defective processes determine the content of moral intuitions. Chapter 3 (“Moral intuitionism and the reliability challenge”) introduces the recent empirical challenges to the reliability of moral intuitions and elaborates a promising strategy for defending intuitionism. In short, I consider whether subjects can track the reliability of their intuitions with their confidence. In Chapter 4 (“The argument from limited cognitive resources”), I evaluate a different strategy to defend moral intuitionism. Specifically, I develop an argument according to which accepting moral intuitions is legitimate because it is the most rational option that a subject has, given her limited resources. The third and final part of the dissertation concerns the role of moral intuitions in action. The influence of automatic processes on moral conduct raises different challenges to moral philosophy. The first challenge is to explain how a subject can be motivated by certain values without the mental effort of deliberation. Chapter 5 (“Caring, moral motivation, and automatic conduct”) tackles this issue. Chapter 6 (“Moral sensitivity as skillful automaticity”) aims to explain how moral agents can be sensitive to good reasons through automatic mental processes.

Author's Profile

Dario Cecchini
North Carolina State University


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