Dumbfounded by the Facts? Understanding the Moral Psychology of Sexual Relationships

Philosophy 98 (2):147-164 (2023)
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One of the standard examples in contemporary moral psychology originates in the works of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. He treats people's responses to the story of Julie and Mark, two siblings who decide to have casual, consensual, protected sex, as facts of human morality, providing evidence for his social intuitionist approach to moral judgements. We argue that Haidt's description of the facts of the story and the reactions of the respondents as ‘morally dumbfounded’ presupposes a view about moral reasoning that is more substantial than he acknowledges. Drawing on the philosophical work by Iris Murdoch and Cora Diamond, we explore how different descriptions of human morality, sexuality, and family relations engage us in evaluations about distinctive features of human life and language that go deeper than Haidt envisages. Thus, we show the need to attend to the concepts used to describe the facts of human moral psychology and the pictures of morality these concepts reveal about the researcher's own understanding of moral experience. This points to the particular responsibility any researcher into human moral psychology has for ensuring that the descriptions they offer are attuned to the complexities of the lives of those they form theories about and that these do not appear conceptually confounding.

Author Profiles

Camilla Kronqvist
Åbo Akademi University
Natan Elgabsi
Åbo Akademi University


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