Moral Intuitions vs. Moral Reasoning. A Philosophical Analysis of the Explanatory Models Intuitionism Relies On

  • Sara Dellantonio
  • Remo Job
Part of the Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics book series (SAPERE, volume 2)


The notion of ‘intuition’ is usually contrasted with rational thought, thus motivating a differentiation between two kinds of processes that are supposed to characterize human thinking, i.e. rational and ‘intuitive’ (immediate and non-argumentative) forms of judgment. Recently, the notion of intuition has also played a leading role in cognitive studies on morality with the rise of so-called social intuitionism, according to which people’s moral stances are culturally driven intuitions - i.e. they are quick, involuntary and automatic responses driven by culturally and socially acquired principles (see e.g. [42], [41] and [22]). Usually, intuitionism is presented as radically opposed to rationalistic views of morality according to which moral judgments are the outcome of explicit reasoning. In this work we compare two different hypotheses concerning the possible relationship between reasoning and intuition: a ‘continuist interpretation’ (maintaining that intuitions and judgments based on reasoning are produced by the same cognitive process) and a ‘discontinuist interpretation’ (supporting the view that they are produced by two different cognitive processes). We argue that a continuist interpretation appears more plausible than a discontinuist one and that the concepts of ‘intuition’ and ‘reasoning’ are two facets of the same process which spans from fast, immediate, and certain answer to slow, conscious and elaborate judgments. According to this interpretation, moral judgments are produced by the same kinds of inferences reasoning relies on, i.e. mostly deduction, induction and abduction. Our analysis will show that to opt for a continuist interpretation has many consequences for the way morality is explained from a psychological point of view. Mainly, it challenges the idea of morality proposed by intuitionism, according to which moral intuitions are rigidly driven by culturally learned principles.

Our reflections lead rather to the conclusion that the first and spontaneous intuitions fully enculturated people may experience do not often express the best moral judgment possible in a certain situation, but are rather the product of the prejudices people inherit from their culture/subculture. This gives rise to the conclusion that people are better guaranteed to form truly moral judgments when they do not respond intuitively to morally relevant situations, but interrupt and override this automatic processing, moving on to a controlled i.e. a rational process.


Moral Judgment Moral Reasoning Moral Intuition Moral Cognition Moral Sense 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze della Cognizione e della FormazioneUniversitá degli Studi di TrentoTrentoItaly

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