Psychology Instead of Ethics? Why Psychological Research Is Important but Cannot Replace Ethics



Recent research in cognitive and moral psychology suggests that our judgments and decisions are primarily driven by intuitions and that giving reasons is a matter of posthoc rationalization or even confabulation – thus challenging the ethical self-conception held by common sense and many philosophers. Do these empirical findings prompt us to abandon the belief that we act and decide on the basis of reasons? I will point to our everyday practice and use the heuristic approach of decision making to argue that they do not. We have, at least, two good reasons to answer the question ‘Psychology instead of Ethics?´ in the negative. The heuristic approach is not only compatible with a rationalist position; it specifies the underlying rules of moral judgments. Combining my arguments from common sense reasoning with the heuristic approach allows me to reinterpret the empirical findings as being about application and systematic errors (bias) of otherwise adaptive heuristics. My proposal for a reconciliation of the philosophical and psychological position will lead to the conclusion that normative and psychological questions are mutually dependent. While not sufficient on their own, both positions are necessary for an informed picture about our reasoning abilities as well as for our ethical self-conception.


Moral Judgment Heuristic Approach Moral Philosophy Psychological Rationalism Moral Psychology 
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© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Center for Neurophilosophy and Ethics of NeurosciencesLudwig-Maximilians-Universität MünchenMünchenGermany

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