Philosophical Studies

, Volume 173, Issue 3, pp 675–697 | Cite as

Debunking debunking: a regress challenge for psychological threats to moral judgment

  • Regina A. Rini


This paper presents a regress challenge to the selective psychological debunking of moral judgments. A selective psychological debunking argument conjoins an empirical claim about the psychological origins of certain moral judgments to a theoretical claim that these psychological origins cannot track moral truth, leading to the conclusion that the moral judgments are unreliable. I argue that psychological debunking arguments are vulnerable to a regress challenge, because the theoretical claim that ‘such-and-such psychological process is not moral-truth-tracking’ relies upon moral judgments. We must then ask about the psychological origins of these judgments, and then make a further evaluative judgment about these psychological origins… and so on. This chain of empirical and evaluative claims may continue indefinitely and, I will argue, proponents of the debunking argument are in a dialectical position where they may not simply call a halt to the process. Hence, their argument cannot terminate, and its debunking conclusion cannot be upheld.


Moral judgment Psychological debunking Regress argument Moral psychology 



The development of this paper has benefited immensely from detailed comments by Guy Kahane, Joanna Demaree-Cotton, and an anonymous referee for Philosophical Studies. I am also indebted to discussion with Hilary Greaves, Hossein Dabbagh, Nora Heinzelmann, Ned Block, Michael Strevens, Joshua Knobe, Thomas Nagel, Daniela Dover, Knut Olav Skarsaune, and Sharon Street. The ideas have been sharpened by engagement with audiences at NYU, Oxford, VU University Amsterdam, the University of Sydney, the University of Tokyo, Kansas State University, and UC Davis. This research was supported by the VolkswagenStiftung’s European Platform for Life Sciences, Mind Sciences, and the Humanities (Grant II/86 063).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NYU Center for BioethicsNew YorkUSA

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