What Good is Moral Reasoning?

Mind & Society, Forthcoming

18 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2011 Last revised: 24 Mar 2011

Date Written: March 8, 2011


The role of reasoning in our moral lives has been increasingly called into question by moral psychology. Not only are intuitions guiding many of our moral judgments and decisions, with reasoning only finding post-hoc intuitions, but reasoning can sometimes play a negative role, by finding excuses for our moral violations. The observations fit well with the argumentative theory of reasoning (Mercier H, Sperber D in press, Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory. Behav Brain Sci), which claims that reasoning evolved to find and evaluate arguments in dialogic contexts. This theory explains the strong confirmation bias that reasoning displays when it produces arguments, which in turn explains its tendency to rationalize our decisions. But this theory also predicts that people should be able to evaluate arguments felicitously and that, as a result, people should reason better in groups, when they are confronted with other people’s arguments. Groups are able to converge on better moral judgments. It is argued that reasoning and argumentation play an important role in our everyday moral lives, and a plea for the value of reasoning for moral change is made.

Keywords: Moral Reasoning, Argumentation, Group Decision Making, Moral Change

Suggested Citation

Mercier, Hugo, What Good is Moral Reasoning? (March 8, 2011). Mind & Society, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1781319

Hugo Mercier (Contact Author)

University of Neuchatel ( email )

Espace Louis Agassiz 1
Neuchâtel, 2000

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