Mind Perception is the Essence of Morality

Psychological Inquiry 23 (2):101-124 (2012)
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Abstract

Mind perception entails ascribing mental capacities to other entities, whereas moral judgment entails labeling entities as good or bad or actions as right or wrong. We suggest that mind perception is the essence of moral judgment. In particular, we suggest that moral judgment is rooted in a cognitive template of two perceived minds—a moral dyad of an intentional agent and a suffering moral patient. Diverse lines of research support dyadic morality. First, perceptions of mind are linked to moral judgments: dimensions of mind perception (agency and experience) map onto moral types (agents and patients), and deficits of mind perception correspond to difficulties with moral judgment. Second, not only are moral judgments sensitive to perceived agency and experience, but all moral transgressions are fundamentally understood as agency plus experienced suffering—that is, interpersonal harm—even ostensibly harmless acts such as purity violations. Third, dyadic morality uniquely accounts for the phenomena of dyadic completion (seeing agents in response to patients, and vice versa), and moral typecasting (characterizing others as either moral agents or moral patients). Discussion also explores how mind perception can unify morality across explanatory levels, how a dyadic template of morality may be developmentally acquired, and future directions.

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