Moral Heuristics or Moral Competence? Reflections on Sunstein
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 557-558, 2005
2 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2006
In "Moral Heuristics," Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28(4), 531-573 (2005), Professor Cass Sunstein draws on recent scientific literature on heuristics in judgment and decision-making to argue that heuristics play a pervasive role in moral cognition and often lead to mistaken and even absurd moral judgments. In this commentary, I argue that by focusing on moral judgments he assumes are distorted or mistaken, Sunstein reverses the normal order of inquiry in the cognitive sciences, which seeks to understand the ideal operations of a cognitive system before attempting to explain its occasional pathologies or disorders. What Sunstein gives us, in effect, is a theory of performance errors without a corresponding theory of moral competence. Additionally, I argue that Sunstein's objections to thought experiments like the footbridge and trolley problems are unsound. Exotic and unfamiliar stimuli are used in theory construction throughout the cognitive sciences, and these problems enable us to uncover the implicit structure of widely shared moral intuitions.
Keywords: Sunstein, Rawls, heuristics, moral heuristics, moral competence, mental representation, trolley problem, cognitive science, human rights
JEL Classification: D63, D64, K00, K13, K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation