The Moral Foreign-Language Effect

Philosophical Psychology 29 (1):23-40 (2016)
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Many have argued that moral judgment is driven by one of two types of processes. Rationalists argue that reasoned processes are the source of moral judgments, whereas sentimentalists argue that emotional processes are. We provide evidence that both positions are mistaken; there are multiple mental processes involved in moral judgment, and it is possible to manipulate which process is engaged when considering moral dilemmas by presenting them in a non-native language. The Foreign-Language Effect is the activation of systematic reasoning processes by thinking in a foreign language. We demonstrate that the FLE extends to moral judgment. This indicates that different types of processes can lead to the formation of differing moral judgments. One implication of the FLE is that it raises the possibility that moral judgments can be made more systematic, and that the type of processing used to form them might be relevant to normative and applied ethics



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Author Profiles

Steve McFarlane
Florida State University
Heather Perez
Broward College