The Cognitive Approach to Morality

  • Raymond BoudonEmail author
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


Why do people feel that some action, institution or state of affairs is fair, legitimate or good, or not? Explaining these feelings means finding out their causes. According to the cognitive approach to morality this amounts to disentangling the reasons as to why people feel so. Durkheim, Max Weber, and many classical and modern social scientists use this approach in their analyses of moral feelings. But it remains in most cases implicit. Weber makes nowhere explicit his notion of axiological rationality. The aim of this chapter is to make this notion analytical and to extend it into a theory of moral feelings. Examples from various sociological chapters, as the moral feelings aroused by inequalities, by political or economic institutions or by current moral practices and values, illustrate the explanatory power of this approach. They suggest that the theory is a powerful tool to explain the development of collective consensus on various issues and also the long- and middle-term changes in moral feelings. The theory avoids the flaw of making moral feelings a mere emanation of socio-cultural contexts or alternatively of a contextual processes. It overcomes the opposition individuals society. It provides a tool to explain the moral feelings observed in the past and in other social contexts and thus to fight prejudice, to understand and even to predict change in moral feelings.


Death Penalty Moral Belief Female Genital Mutilation Ultimatum Game Cognitive Approach 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Académie des sciences morales et politiquesInstitut de FranceParisFrance

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