A Dual-Process Account of Moral Judgment: What Psychopaths Can Teach Us About Morality

It appears your Web browser is not configured to display PDF files. Download adobe Acrobat or click here to download the PDF file.

Click here to download the PDF file.


Kelly, Deirdre




Researchers who argue that moral judgment is based on emotions (`emotion-backers') and those who believe that it is based on reasoning and deliberation (`reasoning-backers') have both struggled to account for the moral deviance of psychopaths.

Emotion-backers, such as Jonathan Haidt, focus on psychopaths' lack of affect, or deficiencies in particular emotions, such as sympathy. Reasoning-backers, such as Lawrence Kohlberg, focus instead on psychopaths' deficient reasoning. Both accounts offer separate descriptions of what goes wrong in the disorder, but neither can fully explain psychopathic moral deviance.

The moral account that I built, bridges these accounts in an attempt to better and more fully describe the empirical data available on psychopathic moral judgment. Further, by considering the cognitive deficits affecting morality in psychopaths, I was able to develop an account of moral judgment which explains moral decision-making in the general population. I argue that moral judgment is best explained with a dual-process account that incorporates a large system of moral emotions as well as integrates multiple bases of morality, such as concerns of fairness, harm, and purity.

It is only by focusing on both the reasoning and emotional deficits in psychopaths that we can begin to understand psychopaths' use of utilitarian reasoning, criminal and non-criminal psychopaths. All of these issues are best described by the dual-process approach that I have developed.

My account of moral judgment has both theoretical and practical applications. Theoretically, it offers a new dual-process paradigm for describing moral judgment in people by bridging reasoning-based and emotion-based accounts. Additionally, my theory challenges accounts of moral emotion that narrowly focus on specific emotions, such as guilt or empathy. It instead integrates all emotions, including disgust, fear, and sympathy, and links specific emotions to moral judgments. Practically, my approach challenges the ways in which we have traditionally studied and applied ethics. It opens the doors for the development of new tools and training programs which better take into consideration the dual-process nature of moral decision-making.


Psychology - Cognitive




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Doctor of Philosophy: 

Thesis Degree Level: 


Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Cognitive Science

Parent Collection: 

Theses and Dissertations

Items in CURVE are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated. They are made available with permission from the author(s).