Moral Reasoning


Psych 4300/6300


Professor: David Pizarro (



Morality seems to be a universal feature of human thinking. People across time, place, and culture have a strong sense of right and wrong. Where does this moral sense come from? Is it innate? Is it a product of socialization? Why do some people disagree so strongly about what is right and wrong? Are there any universally agreed upon moral rules?


Although morality was once of primary interest to psychologists, interest in the topic saw a sharp decline. In recent years, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in the science of morality. Recently, scientists across a wide range of disciplines have made discoveries that bear on the question of how and why humans have a sense of morality.


The goals of this course are to offer an introduction to the science behind our moral sense. In order to achieve this goal, we will read articles on religion, philosophy, and almost every area of scientific psychology (social psychology, developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive psychology). By the end of the course you should be well versed in the primary issues and debates involved in the scientific study of morality.


Participation: Your participation in the course discussions will be an integral part of this course. Although I will often present material at the beginning of each meeting, I will turn to the members of the seminar to engage in more detailed discussions of the topics and readings for the week. I fully expect all members of the seminar to participate in these discussions and will call on individuals during class to provide their thoughts and opinions on the topic at hand.


Thought Papers: To facilitate discussion and class participation you will write short papers (one page max length) raising questions or issues for discussion. These papers must be submitted to me via email (as an attachment in any common document format) by 4 pm on the day before class. These papers, combined with an assessment of your participation, will compose 50% of your grade. PLEASE include your name and the week # in the filename (e.g., “Pizarro week 3.doc”).


Final paper: A 12-15 page research proposal or theoretical paper in APA format will be required at the end of the term (a more detailed description of these two possibilities will take place in class). Students are welcome to set up individual meetings with me to discuss possible ideas. In addition, you will be asked on the last class meeting to present your basic topic to the rest of the course. The final paper will be due on the day that corresponds to when the final exam would be held for a course in this time slot.


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