Morality justifies motivated reasoning in the folk ethics of belief

Cognition 209 (C):104513 (2021)
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Abstract

When faced with a dilemma between believing what is supported by an impartial assessment of the evidence (e.g., that one's friend is guilty of a crime) and believing what would better fulfill a moral obligation (e.g., that the friend is innocent), people often believe in line with the latter. But is this how people think beliefs ought to be formed? We addressed this question across three studies and found that, across a diverse set of everyday situations, people treat moral considerations as legitimate grounds for believing propositions that are unsupported by objective, evidence-based reasoning. We further document two ways in which moral considerations affect how people evaluate others' beliefs. First, the moral value of a belief affects the evidential threshold required to believe, such that morally beneficial beliefs demand less evidence than morally risky beliefs. Second, people sometimes treat the moral value of a belief as an independent justification for belief, and on that basis, sometimes prescribe evidentially poor beliefs to others. Together these results show that, in the folk ethics of belief, morality can justify and demand motivated reasoning.

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Author Profiles

Corey Cusimano
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Tania Lombrozo
Princeton University

Citations of this work

Morality of Belief I: How Beliefs Wrong.Rima Basu - 2023 - Philosophy Compass (7):1-10.
The Puzzle of Belief.Neil Van Leeuwen & Tania Lombrozo - 2023 - Cognitive Science 47 (2):e13245.
Reflective Reasoning & Philosophy.Nick Byrd - 2021 - Philosophy Compass 16 (11):e12786.

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References found in this work

Varieties of Moral Encroachment.Renée Jorgensen Bolinger - 2020 - Philosophical Perspectives 34 (1):5-26.
Can human irrationality be experimentally demonstrated?L. Jonathan Cohen - 1981 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 4 (3):317-370.

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