Confabulating the Truth: In Defense of “Defensive” Moral Reasoning

The Journal of Ethics 19 (2):105-123 (2015)
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Empirically minded philosophers have raised questions about judgments and theories based on moral intuitions such as Rawls’s method of reflective equilibrium. But they work from the notion of intuitions assumed in empirical work, according to which intuitions are immediate assessments, as in psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s definition. Haidt himself regards such intuitions as an appropriate basis for moral judgment, arguing that normal agents do not reason prior to forming a judgment and afterwards just “confabulate” reasons in its defense. I argue, first, that the notion of “considered intuitive judgment” that Rawls spells out when he first presents his method is pre-theoretical, but not at all pre-reflective, in the way Haidt’s definition supposes; it may rest on various forms of reasoning short of systematic derivation from theoretical principles. I go on to take issue with Haidt’s dismissal of ex post facto moral reasoning, arguing that it can play both a causal role in an individual’s later intuitions or judgments and a legitimate normative role, as required by moral competence in judging non-taboo cases. I suggest that the move from intuition to judgment and thence to ex post facto reasoning makes sense as a justificatory version of Peircean abduction, or what is now mainly called “inference to the best explanation.”



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Patricia S. Greenspan
University of Maryland, College Park