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« Weekend update: The distracting, counterproductive "97% consensus" debate grinds on | Main | "Integrated & reciprocal": Dual process reasoning and science communication part 2 »
Friday
Jul262013

Dual process reasoning, Liberalism, & disgust

Interesting discussion ongoing in connection with Yoel Inbar's guest post Is Disgust a Uniquely "Conservative" Moral Emotion? I think the contributions made to it so far are more interesting than anything I have to say today, and I am loath to preempt additional contributions to that discussion. So today is an official "more discussion" day.

But just to give a sense of the nature of the matters being discussed, among the interesting questions that came up (in an exchange w/ Inbar initiated by Jon Baron)  is the relationship between the "disgust is conservative" thesis (DIC) and dual-process reasoning theories (DRT) in moral psychology.  Consider two possibilities:

A. The two could be combined. E.g., one could take the view (1) that moral reasoning is reliable & valid only when it is guided either exclusively by conscious reflection or by intuitive sensibilities including emotions the content of which would be validated by reflection; (2) that disgust is unreliable because either unreflective or, on reflection, not valid because on reflection not susceptible to validation by a normatively defensible moral theory; and (3) disgust is characteristically "conservative" either b/c conservatism is associated with a cognitive style hostile to cognitive reflection or b/c disgust involves moral appraisals that on reflection are "conservative"--or, more interestingly, illiberal in the sense of being antagonistic to key premises of Liberalism understood in the political philosophical sense.

B. Alternatively, one could separate DIC from DRT.  The validity of moral reasoning, on this account, doesn't depend on it involving or being validated by reflection. Indeed, one might believe that emotions and other "automatic," "intuitive," "unconscious," "perceptive" etc. forms of cognition play some indispensable role in moral reasoning-- a role that can't be reproduced by conscious reflection, etc. On this view, then, diverse moral styles would be distinguished not by the degree of reflection they involve, necessarily, but by the nature of the appraisals that are embodied in the emotions that those who subscribe to them use to size up goods and states affairs.  "Disgust" would be "conservative," this account would say, insofar as "disgust" reliably guides appraisals to the ones that fit the "conservative" moral style. But "liberals" would then be understood to be relying on some alternative emotion or set of emotions calibrated to generating "liberal" perceptions and related affective stances toward those same goods and states of affairs

Baron, as I understood him, was taking issue with Inbar on the assumption that Inbar subscribed to something like position A.  Inbar replied that he was somewhere closer to B -- or at least that he thought "liberals" as well as "conservatives" were relying on emotion to the same extent in their reasoning; he expressed uncertainty as to whether emotion is simply a heuristic substitution for reflection in moral reasoning or a unique and indispensable ingredient of it.

I had tried to identify scholars who clearly are committed to either A or B.  I proposed Martha Nussbaum for B.  For A, I suggested maybe John Jost, although in fact he has not (as far as I know) written about disgust. I suggested that I saw Haidt as sometimes A & sometimes B, although Inbar offered that he viewed Haidt as pretty clearly in the camp B.

As it turns out, I happened to read an excellent article yesterday that is pure, unadulterated A


We review evidence that disgust, in the context of bodily moral violations, differs from other emotions of moral condemnation, particularly anger, in three different senses of the word unreasoning. First, bodily moral disgust is weakly associated with situational appraisals, such as whether a behavior is harmful or justified.Instead, it tends to be based on associations with a category of object or act; certain objects are just disgusting. Second, bodily moral disgust is relatively insensitive to context, both in thoughts and behaviors, and therefore disgust is less likely to change from varying contexts. Third, bodily moral disgust is less likely to be justified with external  reasons; instead, persons often use their feelings of disgust as a tautological justification. These unreasoning traits can make disgust a problematic sociomoral emotion for a liberal society because it ignores factors that are important to judgments of fairness, such as intentionality, harm, and justifiability.

Very much worth reading! And further evidence, as Inbar emphasized in his excellent post, that debate in this area remains vibrant and ongoing.

There were other interesting issues under debate too, including regular commentator Larry's surmise that disgust is a kind of feigned strategic posturing on the part of "liberals."

I propose that additional comments -- I hope there will be some! -- be added to the existing trail originating in Yoel's post.

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