Ethical Explanations

Year of Conference


Conference Proceedings

“Slavery ended in the United States because slavery is morally wrong.” This explanation does not seem to fit the typical criteria for explaining an event, since it appeals to ethics rather than causal factors as the reason for this social change. But do people perceive these ethical claims as explanatory, and if so, why? In Study 1, we find that people accept ethical explanations for social change and that this is predicted by their meta-ethical beliefs in moral progress and moral objectivism, suggesting that they treat morality somewhat akin to a causal force. In Study 2, we find that people recognize this relationship between ethical explanations and meta-ethical commitments, using the former to make inferences about individuals’ beliefs in moral progress and objectivism. Together these studies demonstrate that our moral commitments shape our judgments of explanations and that explanations shape our moral inferences about others.

Conference Name
Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society