Should morality be abolished? An empirical challenge to the argument from intolerance

Philosophical Psychology 35 (3):350-385 (2022)
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Moral abolitionists claim that morality ought to be abolished. According to one of their most prominent arguments, this is because making moral judgments renders people significantly less tolerant toward anyone who holds divergent views. In this paper we investigate the hypothesis that morality’s tolerance-decreasing effect only occurs if people are realists about moral issues, i.e., they interpret these issues as objectively grounded. We found support for this hypothesis (Studies 1 and 2). Yet, it also turned out that the intolerance associated with realism is mediated by moral conviction and perceived consensus. People tend to feel more strongly about those moral issues they ground objectively and, in doing so, are more prone to display the vice of moral smugness toward those who disagree with them. The remedy for this that has been recommended is humility which we found (Study 3) is indeed related to reduced intolerance, in part by predicting a reduction in realism, but also in part through a direct connection to intolerance. These results put pressure on abolitionists’ “argument from intolerance.”

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Thomas Pölzler
University of Graz


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