The Intuitionist View

The rationalist assumption about our moral architecture are now being challenged by a more intuitionist view.

This intuitionist account puts emotion and unconscious intuition at the center of moral life, not reason; it stresses moral reflexes, alongside individual choice; emphasizes the role perception plays in moral decision making, before logical deduction.

In the intuitionist view, the primary struggle is not between reason and the passions. Instead, the crucial contest is within Level 1, the unconscious-mind sphere itself.

This view starts with the observation that we all are born with deep selfish drives–a drive to take what we can, to magnify our status, to appear superior to others, to exercise power over others, to satisfy lusts. These drives warp perception.

These deep impulses treat conscious cognition as a plaything. They not only warp perception during sin; they invent justifications after it. We tell inaction had it coming; that the circumstances compelled us to act as we did; that someone is to blame. The desire pre-consciously molds the shape of our thought.

But not all the deep drives are selfish ones, the intuitionist stress. We are all descended from successful cooperators. Our ancestors survived in families and groups.

Humans also possess a suite of emotions to help with bonding and commitment. We blush and feel instantaneous outrage when we violate social norms. We feel instantaneous outrage when our dignity has been slighted.

In humans, these social emotions have a moral component, even at a very early age. These sort of moral judgments are instant and emotional. They contain subtle evaluation. As we’ve seen so often in this story, the act of perception is a thick process. It is not just taking in a scene but, almost simultaneously, weighing its meaning, evaluating it,  and generating an emotion about it.

from The Social Animal, David Brook.
Chapter 18, Morality.


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