Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 93–104 | Cite as

Rationalizing our Way into Moral Progress

  • Jesse S. SummersEmail author


Research suggests that the explicit reasoning we offer to ourselves and to others is often rationalization, that we act instead on instincts, inclinations, stereotypes, emotions, neurobiology, habits, reactions, evolutionary pressures, unexamined principles, or justifications other than the ones we think we’re acting on, then we tell a post hoc story to justify our actions. This is troubling for views of moral progress according to which moral progress proceeds from our engagement with our own and others’ reasons. I consider an account of rationalization, based on Robert Audi’s, to make clear that rationalization, unlike simple lying, can be sincere. Because it can be sincere, and because we also have a desire to be consistent with ourselves, I argue that rationalization sets us up for becoming better people over time, and that a similar case can be made to explain how moral progress among groups of people can proceed via rationalization.


Moral progress Rationalization Real reasons Explanatory and justificatory reasons Psychological explanations 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA

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