, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 1–13 | Cite as

Is Deontology a Moral Confabulation?

Original Paper


Joshua Greene has put forward the bold empirical hypothesis that deontology is a confabulation of moral emotions. Deontological philosophy does not steam from "true" moral reasoning, but from emotional reactions, backed up by post hoc rationalizations which play no role in generating the initial moral beliefs. In this paper, I will argue against the confabulation hypothesis. First, I will highlight several points in Greene’s discussion of confabulation, and identify two possible models. Then, I will argue that the evidence does not illustrate the relevant model of deontological confabulation. In fact, I will make the case that deontology is unlikely to be a confabulation because alarm-like emotions, which allegedly drive deontological theorizing, are resistant to be subject to confabulation. I will end by clarifying what kind of claims can the confabulation data support. The upshot of the final section is that confabulation data cannot be used to undermine deontological theory in itself, and ironically, if one commits to the claim that a deontological justification is a confabulation in a particular case, then the data suggests that in general deontology has a prima facie validity.


Confabulation Deontology Consequentialism Greene Moral intution 



I thank Guy Kahane, Gulzaar Barn and Bogdan Olaru for insightful comments and advice. I am also grateful to the two anonymous reviewers of this journal for thoughtful comments which helped to improve the manuscript. This paper is supported by the Sectoral Operational Programme Human, Resources Development (SOP HRD), financed from the European Social Fund and by the Romanian Government under contract number POSDRU/159/1.5/S/133675.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Romanian AcademyIasiRomania
  2. 2.Research Center in Applied Ethics, Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of BucharestBucharestRomania

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