How would one manage to arrive at this morality, or when to apply it without reason?

Some might say we directly experience morality, but this is inconsistent with the different different moral intuitions throughout history. At best, we then need to use reason to work out what in our experience or moral intuition is genuine and what is just a societal by-product. e.g. One might say an Aztec could work out murder is wrong but then need to apply reason to deduce that human sacrifice is also wrong, even though many Aztecs thought it was a good action.

This is a follow-up question to my previous question is immorality just irrationality?

  • There's an old saying, "what's good for somebody isn't good for everybody" (my wording's not precise, and google's not helping), whereby you could almost always argue morality both ways, though perhaps some ways harder than others. But Aztecs, for example, are easy. If you actually believe human sacrifice appeases angry gods, then a few sacrifices may result in a good harvest, saving many, many more people from starvation. A few die so many may live. So your words "deduce that human sacrifice is also wrong" isn't deducible at all. Like I said, morality typically just isn't deducible at all.
    – user19423
    Mar 14 '18 at 10:47

How would one manage to arrive at this morality, or when to apply it without reason?

This really depends on what kind of metaethical view it falls under. Firstly, let's look at which positions are possible for externalism. (Externalism about metaethics is the view that knowledge of moral truths doesn't itself motivate.)

Smith presents it as a trilemma:
(1) Morality is objective.
(2) Morality is motivating.
(3) We are motivated by our desires. (Humean theory of motivation)

We can't believe all three. Typically expressivism denies 1, naturalism denies 2, non-naturalism denies 3. I believe other anti-realist views could deny multiple things.

So what seem to be looking for is: How would a view that denies 2 but affirms 1 look and how could we find out what's moral under it? There are multiple possibilities. Here's one:
This is Brink's view in Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics. He defends externalism and (non-reductive) naturalist moral realism, so he fits in what you're looking for. How does he think we can arrive at moral truths? Brink goes for a coherentist epistemology, so if our beliefs are coherent then they are justified. If we want to find out moral truths then we should try to make all our beliefs coherent. He has a whole chapter on it, so you could check it out.

How would that look in application? One concept to do so would f.e. be the reflective equilibrium (I don't think Brink goes into it, but it goes for coherentism about moral beliefs in general).

Some might say we directly experience morality, but this is inconsistent with the different different moral intuitions throughout history.

Not necessarily or at least there are possible defending arguments. Moral intutionists could argue that people were mistaken and contradicted their own intuitions, or that many immoral beliefs can be explained by wrong factual beliefs.

If you're looking for "How do you arrive at morality?" in general (and not just for externalist views) then check out this article and paragraph 5 of this article.


I think you raise two separate issues : (1) the place of rationality in the acquisition of morality, let's say moral principles; and (2) the place of rationality in the application of moral principles. But first a word about rationality.


We aren't helped by the fact that 'rationality' is polysemous - many-ways ambiguous. When I think of rationality I think of having beliefs or sets of beliefs that are internally coherent and avoid self-contradiction (call this 'consistency'); of respecting inferential validity; of not asking inherently undecidable questions; of doubting and questioning and not accepting everything on authority or because it comes from a particular source; of looking for proof or evidence for what I believe or think I know; of matching the strength of a belief to the strength of the evidence; of ordering my preferences transitively (so that I do not prefer A to B, B to C, and C to A and that if I prefer A to B and B to C, I choose A over C in a situation of choice); also of adopting the means best calculated on the evidence available to me to achieve my goals or at least those goals to which I assign priority ('instrumental rationality').


If this is at least roughly what rationality covers and includes, I can't see that it has any direct relation to morality. How can morality be deduced or otherwise derived from it ? You would have to draw out a strand and show that, for instance, immorality involves a kind of self-contradiction. (Kant is in the wings here.) But any idea that morality is straightforwardly, without conceptual elaboration and argument, a 'consequence' of rationality doesn't seem to stand up. I do not deny that such elaboration and argument cannot be supplied - my point is that, if the idea is to be maintained, they need to be.


Now here, I think, your case is much stronger. Consider how, from the concept of justice (of treating like cases equally), we arrive at the idea that women and men should have equal pay for equal work and that women should have the same right to vote as men, that reverse discrimination might be appropriate (the favouring of groups which have been disfavoured in the past), that the demands of justice apply internationally and not only within the nation state. All these extensions of the application of justice have been driven at least in part from the rational requirement of consistency. If justice involves treating like cases equally, then we cannot consistently deny equal pay for equal work between women and men. Or to look at it another way, to deny this is to deny a valid inference from the principle of justice. This is irrational since respect for valid inference is, no less than consistency an element of rationality as set out above.


Noting the definition version on Wikipedia here: Morality - Evolution

Human morality ... is essentially a natural phenomenon that evolved to restrict excessive individualism that could undermine a group's cohesion and thereby reducing the individuals' fitness.

So when Galileo said the Earth revolves around the Sun he was being rational and immoral.

What this means is you have to be careful about being rational.

  • 1
    1) That is a teleological description. "Evolved to ..." is really sketchy. 2) There are accounts that undermine the explanation that Galileo gave, meaning that he got the right answer with unsufficient evidence. (See f.e. Feyerabend). 3) The example does not undermine group cohesion.
    – Marc H.
    Mar 14 '18 at 13:36
  • Nevertheless morality is a social construct based more on ritual than reason. Mar 14 '18 at 13:41
  • 1
    Descriptively, sure. Prescriptively it depends on our metaethical beliefs.
    – Marc H.
    Mar 14 '18 at 13:45
  • Incongruence between morality and ethics has a long history of strife. Mar 14 '18 at 14:05
  • But rationality has been arrived at through this same evolutionary process.
    – CriglCragl
    Mar 14 '18 at 15:33

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