Mind & Society

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 131–148 | Cite as

What good is moral reasoning?

  • Hugo MercierEmail author


The role of reasoning in our moral lives has been increasingly called into question by moral psychology. Not only are intuitions guiding many of our moral judgments and decisions, with reasoning only finding post-hoc rationalizations, but reasoning can sometimes play a negative role, by finding excuses for our moral violations. The observations fit well with the argumentative theory of reasoning (Mercier H, Sperber D, Behav Brain Sci, in press-b), which claims that reasoning evolved to find and evaluate arguments in dialogic contexts. This theory explains the strong confirmation bias that reasoning displays when it produces arguments, which in turn explains its tendency to rationalize our decisions. But this theory also predicts that people should be able to evaluate arguments felicitously and that, as a result, people should reason better in groups, when they are confronted with other people’s arguments. Groups are able to converge on better moral judgments. It is argued that reasoning and argumentation play an important role in our everyday moral lives, and a defense of the value of reasoning for moral change is offered.


Moral reasoning Argumentation Group decision making Moral change 



For their very useful feedback, I wish to thank Jon Baron, Nicolas Baumard, Roberto Casati, Vittorio Girotto, Jon Haidt and Dan Sperber.


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© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy, Politics and Economics ProgramUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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