This study analyzed moral psychology's “moral judgment-moral action gap” research and found that morality was being described as a secondary phenomenon produced by underlying substrates (such as identity and self constructs, “brain modules,” and “evolved emotional systems”) which are themselves non-moral. Deriving morality from “the non-moral” presents a kind of ontological gap in the moral psychology research. Researchers implicitly close this gap assuming it is possible to get moral judgments and actions out of non-moral substrates. But the difficulty remains how the moral as “moral” becomes infused into any moral psychology models. Morality is not a secondary phenomenon arising out of something else. This study argues that there is a need to shift our understanding of what it means to be human, to a view in which the moral is fundamental. An alternative foundation for assessing the moral is found in the work of Emmanuel Levinas who sees ethics as a metaphysical concern. This means that he sees the essential moral character of human life and the reality of human agency as ontologically fundamental, or constitutive of human nature itself. In other words, the ethical is the “first cause” in regards to understanding the nature and action of the self. Thus morality is not merely epiphenomenal to some more fundamental reality. Levinas holds that as humans, we are called to the Other. This call of obligation to the Other comes before all other human endeavors. After presenting Levinas's alternative foundation of obligation to the Other which herein is labeled Felt Moral Obligation (FMO), C. Terry Warner's conceptualizations of FMO in relation to the moral judgment-action gap are presented. In light of these conceptualizations, this study argues that there is actually no moral judgment-moral action gap, but only holistic events of moral self-betrayal. Warner illustrates that rejecting FMO is a single moral event, a holistic act performed by a moral agent that involves moral responses of self-justification, offense-taking, and rationalization. The person finds him or herself in a state of self-betrayal. Levinas and Warner implicitly assert that such self-betraying responses are not fundamentally biological or rational, but rather, fundamentally moral.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Psychology



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moral psychology, obligation, morality, Emmanuel Levinas, self-betrayal, C. Terry Warner

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Psychology Commons