Social intuitionism  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Social intuitionism is a movement in moral psychology that arose in contrast to more heavily rationalist theories of morality, like that of Lawrence Kohlberg. Kohlberg developed a model of moral reasoning that he claimed accounts for people's moral behaviour. More sophisticated reasoning, he asserted, should lead one to more consistent moral action, because one realizes that moral principles are prescriptive in nature and so demand action from the self.

Jonathan Haidt (2001) disagrees that reasoning gives rise to moral action. Instead, he suggests, reasoning happens post hoc--after the moral decision has been made. His main evidence comes from studies of "moral dumbfounding" where people have strong moral reactions but fail to establish any kind of rational principle to explain their reaction. Imagine that a brother and sister slept together once, no one else knew, no harm befell either one, and both felt it brought them closer as siblings. Many people still have a very strong negative reaction to this story, yet they can't explain why using Kohlberg's principled moral reasoning. Haidt suggests that we have unconscious, affective, moral heuristics that guide our reactions to morally charged situations and our moral behaviour, and that if we are asked to reason we do so only after we have made the decision.

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