The actor–observer bias and moral intuitions: Adding fuel to Sinnott-Armstrong's fire

Neuroethics 1 (2):133-144 (2008)
Abstract
In a series of recent papers, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong has used findings in social psychology to put pressure on the claim that our moral beliefs can be non-inferentially justified. More specifically, he has suggested that insofar as our moral intuitions are subject to what psychologists call framing effects, this poses a real problem for moral intuitionism. In this paper, we are going to try to add more fuel to the empirical fire that Sinnott-Armstrong has placed under the feet of the intuitionist. Along the way, we first provide an overview of what Sinnott-Armstrong calls the Master Argument against intuitionism. Then we examine some of the literature on framing effects—especially as it pertains to moral philosophy. Finally, we present the results of a new study which create yet another hurdle intuitionists must clear if they want to motivate their view. It appears that in addition to being influenced by framing effects, our moral intuitions are also influenced by an actor–observer bias as well—a bias whereby we hold other people to different moral standards than we would hold ourselves even if we were in the same situation. If we’re right, the burden is on the moral intuitionist to explain why we should have faith in our moral intuitions despite the gathering evidence concerning their seeming unreliability. And by our lights, this is something that simply cannot be done from the armchair.
Keywords Moral intuitionism  Framing effects  Actor–observer biases
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