Moral Progress: Improvement of Moral Concepts, Refinements of Moral Motivation

Gertrud Nunner-Winkler 1
  • 1 Emeritus from formerly Max Planck Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften, Arbeitsbereich Psychologie,, Munich, Germany


In their recent book Buchanan and Powell claim that there is moral progress. Their analysis focuses on increasing inclusiveness, yet they also suggest other dimensions as possible indicators-improvements in the concept of morality and refinements in moral motivation. In the following I present empirical data on changes in moral understanding that occurred during the second half of the 20th century in Germany. These changes concern an increasing delimitation of the moral realm, the rise of an ethics of responsibility, the displacement of an orientation to super ego dictates by a more ego-syntonic type of moral motivation. This research largely follows the ‘cognitivist’ paradigm which I start off defending against Haidt’s counter proposal of moral intuitionism. Feasible explanatory factors for the changes documented are put forward-processes of secularization and changes in socialization styles-and their interpretation as indicators of moral progress is discussed. The paper ends with brief speculations concerning possible reasons for current moral regressions.

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The Journal is devoted to the fundamental issues of empirical and normative social theory, and is directed at social scientists and social philosophers who combine commitment to political and moral enlightenment with argumentative rigour and conceptual clarity. Published articles develop social theorizing in connection with analytical philosophy and philosophy of science.