• Open Access

On the Wrong Track: Process and Content in Moral Psychology


  • I am grateful to two anonymous referees for extremely helpful comments, and to Steve Clarke for useful suggestions. I have also benefited from discussion with Joshua Greene. Parts of this article were presented at a symposium at the American Philosophical Association Meeting at Boston, and at the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham. Work on this article was supported by a University Award from the Wellcome Trust (WT087208MF).

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Address for correspondence:Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Littlegate House 16/17 St Ebbe's Street, Oxford, OX1 1PT, UK.

Email: guy.kahane@philosophy.ox.ac.uk


According to Joshua Greene's influential dual process model of moral judgment, different modes of processing are associated with distinct moral outputs: automatic processing with deontological judgment, and controlled processing with utilitarian judgment. This article aims to clarify and assess Greene's model. I argue that the proposed tie between process and content is based on a misinterpretation of the evidence, and that the supposed evidence for controlled processing in utilitarian judgment is actually likely to reflect, not ‘utilitarian reasoning’, but a form of moral deliberation which, ironically, is actually in serious tension with a utilitarian outlook. This alternative account is further supported by the results of a neuroimaging study showing that intuitive and counterintuitive judgments have similar neural correlates whether or not their content is utilitarian or deontological.