Making Psychology Normatively Significant

Regina A. Rini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The debate between proponents and opponents of a role for empirical psychology in ethical theory seems to be deadlocked. This paper aims to clarify the terms of that debate, and to defend a principled middle position. I argue against extreme views, which see empirical psychology either as irrelevant to, or as wholly displacing, reflective moral inquiry. Instead, I argue that moral theorists of all stripes are committed to a certain conception of moral thought-as aimed at abstracting away from individual inclinations and toward interpersonal norms-and that this conception tells against both extremes. Since we cannot always know introspectively whether our particular moral judgments achieve this interpersonal standard, we must seek the sort of self-knowledge offered by empirical psychology. Yet reflective assessment of this new information remains a matter of substantive normative theorizing, rather than an immediate consequence of empirical findings themselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-274
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Ethics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Cognitive science of ethics
  • Intuitions
  • Moral methodology
  • Moral psychology
  • Normative abstraction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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