Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 425-438

First online:

Breaking Out of Moral Typecasting

  • Adam J. AricoAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Arizona Email author 

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In their recent paper, Kurt Gray and Daniel Wegner offer a model of moral cognition, the “Moral Typecasting” thesis, in which they claim that perceptions of moral agency are inversely related to perceptions of moral patiency. Once we see someone as a moral agent, they claim, we cannot see them as a moral patient (and vice versa). In this paper, I want both to challenge the conception of morality on which the typecasting thesis is fundamentally based and to raise some concerns with the data offered in favor of moral typecasting. I first argue that the dyadic definition of morality is far too narrow to fully capture either all of morality or all of moral psychology. Further, even setting aside the problems with the dyadic notion of morality, I argue that the experimental data Gray and Wegner appeal to fail to demonstrate the sort of mutual exclusivity of and causal interaction between moral perceptions that the moral typecasting thesis proposes. Rather, I suggest, the perceptual differences that do show up in the cited studies arguably arise not from a psychological tendency towards moral typecasting, but from confounding features of the characters in the stimuli.