“I don’t know why it is wrong, but it is just wrong!”: An empirical investigation of moral dumbfounding and what (if anything) it reveals about the nature of moral judgment.

Tammy Orreal

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

Think of any contentious political-social issue in which you resolutely judge the other side of the debate to be wrong. It is likely that you would remain steadfast in your judgment even if you had difficulty articulating a reason for your judgment or were made aware of the shortcomings of your justification. Sometimes we know that something is wrong despite an inability to provide coherent reasons. This phenomenon, known as moral dumbfounding, has been proposed as evidence that moral judgments are not caused by a process of reasoning; presumably, one would be able to provide reasons to justify a judgment if reasoning was involved in the formation of moral judgment. The possible implications of this assumption can be understood in everyday terms: if it is the case that moral judgments are merely primitive feelings without logical justification, then genuine moral discourse is not possible. Moral dumbfounding is clearly an important and interesting phenomenon but the empirical evidence for it, to date, is very limited. The broad aim of the present dissertation was to establish whether moral dumbfounding is a real phenomenon. Through a series of empirical studies, support for moral dumbfounding as a genuine, robust phenomenon was found. Moral dumbfounding can be elicited using a broad range of stimuli and does not vary as a function of individual differences. The phenomenon does not, however, offer support for models that claim that moral judgments are intuitive, and that reason plays no causal role in the formation of moral judgment. A number of alternative causal processes that are consistent with moral dumbfounding, but that accommodate a causal role for reasoning in the construction of moral judgments, are discussed here; thus, moral dumbfounding is broadly consistent with several theories of moral judgment, including rationalist models.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Saling, Lauren, Principal Supervisor
  • McGrath, Andrew, Principal Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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