Several prominent moral psychologists and philosophers have recently made much of a phenomenon they term moral dumbfounding, defined as “the stubborn and puzzled maintenance of a moral judgment without supporting reasons” (Haidt et al. 2000: 1). This phenomenon, most thoroughly discussed in Jonathan Haidt’s (2001) influential paper, “The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail,” has been utilized in antithetical ways. Haidt and his collaborators hold it to support a descriptive and normative theory, social intuitionism, which is anthropocentric and sentimentalist, and claims to vindicate moral knowledge; whereas Peter Singer (2005) and Joshua Greene (2008) hold that dumbfounding supports a hyper-rationalist consequentialism, which they claim to be the only alternative to moral skepticism. Yet the proponents of dumbfounding agree that the phenomenon shows something important about ordinary moral judgment, even where people are not dumbfounded. Specifically, they claim that it supports their view that reasons and reasoning typically play little or no role in judgment. What passes for moral reasoning is, quite generally, better viewed as post hoc rationalization of decisions made on other, non-rational grounds. Let us call this the pessimistic view of moral reasons and reasoning.
...But I contend that he claim that the dumbfounding study supports this pessimistic conclusion rests on a shaky foundation. Several alternative explanations of the phenomenon would arise were there good reasons for the dumbfounded subjects’ moral judgments, even though they are unable to articulate them under the experimental conditions. I will argue that there are in fact good reasons for critical moral judgments in all of the cases Haidt considers— indeed, obviously good reasons—his claims to the contrary notwithstanding. The fact that these reasons have somehow been overlooked in this literature suggests that the subjects are not dumbfounded by these cases so much as certain (extremely intelligent) psychologists and philosophers are, rather, stupefied by their moral theories. To be morally stupefied in this fashion is to be rendered unable to see obviously good reasons, because you are in the grip of a theory too narrow-minded to accommodate them.....
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Moral Dumbfounding and Moral Stupefaction
An excellent paper by Daniel Jacobson (ht):