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Cognition. 2002 Jun;84(2):221-36.

Norms with feeling: towards a psychological account of moral judgment.

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Department of Philosophy, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC 29424, USA.


There is a large tradition of work in moral psychology that explores the capacity for moral judgment by focusing on the basic capacity to distinguish moral violations (e.g. hitting another person) from conventional violations (e.g. playing with your food). However, only recently have there been attempts to characterize the cognitive mechanisms underlying moral judgment (e.g. Cognition 57 (1995) 1; Ethics 103 (1993) 337). Recent evidence indicates that affect plays a crucial role in mediating the capacity to draw the moral/conventional distinction. However, the prevailing account of the role of affect in moral judgment is problematic. This paper argues that the capacity to draw the moral/conventional distinction depends on both a body of information about which actions are prohibited (a Normative Theory) and an affective mechanism. This account leads to the prediction that other normative prohibitions that are connected to an affective mechanism might be treated as non-conventional. An experiment is presented that indicates that "disgust" violations (e.g. spitting at the table), are distinguished from conventional violations along the same dimensions as moral violations.

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