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Psychology’s Contribution to Ethics: Two Case Studies

Chapter

Abstract

This paper contends that psychology cannot replace ethics. However, it will be argued, with reference to two case studies, that the empirical investigation of human morality can offer an important contribution to ethics. First, an empirical approach can illuminate matters of definition. Normative ethicists often make distinctions between concepts that do not reflect lay usage, and may seek to refine or reclaim the ‘true’ meaning of words to prevent the erosion of conceptual distinctions. However, it might be argued that they should hold no privileged place when it comes to defining the terms of language as it is used. It is essential that philosophers take seriously the question of what laypeople understand by ethical concepts, partly because the cultural and social differences such analyses reveal are interesting in themselves, but also because there are implications for the relationship between laypeople and the academy. The first case study thus shows that psychology can make a contribution towards defining ethical concepts. Secondly, it will be shown that psychology can elucidate the processes by which ethically desirable ends might be facilitated. Psychological approaches to forgiveness may, for example, help to expedite a goal which may seem remote from the human dynamics of forgiveness. Psychological interventions focus not on when forgiveness is appropriate or fitting (as a normative ethical account might) but on how this goal can be promoted. These methods do not replace ethics, but they do complement it in elucidating how certain ethically desirable ends might be progressed.

Keywords

Psychological Intervention Cognitive Reappraisal Psychological Approach Valence Rating Social Psychology Bulletin 
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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Copyright information

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Jubilee Centre for Character and VirtuesSchool of Education, University of BirminghamBirminghamUK

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