Moral Psychology

How do we become moral people? I’m sure you didn’t leave the hospital after you were born knowing exactly what decision to make in every situation, and if you did, you should definitely win some sort of award for that, or maybe you’re an Avenger🦸. In either case, good for you, but for the rest of us, our moral compasses develop over time. But how?

Moral psychology differs from the philosophical study of morality because the psychology aspect focuses not just on what decisions we make but why and how we make those decisions. Moral psychology considers what factors go into creating our own sense of moral judgment⚖️. Are we morally motivated to do something because we genuinely want to help others, or do we secretly gain something from such acts? It’s no secret that doing good deeds and making good choices make us feel good about ourselves and bragging about these good deeds and choices on social media makes us feel even better. But this can’t be the only reason we do good things. Maybe we just want to avoid the negative feelings that go along with bad decisions. Are some reasons better or more moral than others?

Key Texts


  • Jonathan Haidt on Moral Psychology

    Social Science Bites

  • Moral Psychology

    Grant Bartley

  • Locke on Moral Psychology

    The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast


Want to Know More?

Questions to Think About

  • How does morality develop?

  • Why do you we find some things morally right and others morally wrong?

  • Can our morality change over time?

  • What motivates us morally?

  • How do we provide evidence for moral reasoning?

  • Is morality just a human concept? Can it develop in other animals?

  • Do all humans develop their moral systems in the same way?

Key Thinkers

  • Jean Piaget

  • Lawrence Kohlberg

  • Carol Gilligan

  • Joshua Greene

“Jean Piaget” by mirjoran is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“File:Carol Gilligan P1010970 – cropped.jpg” by Deror avi ; cropped by User:Ravit is licensed with CC BY-SA 3.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“Joshua Greene no Fronteiras do Pensamento São Paulo 2018” by fronteirasweb is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Key Terms

  • Judgment
    the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions
  • Motivation
    the reason(s) one has for acting or behaving in a certain way
  • Sensitivity
    being able to notice and interpret right and wrong in a situation
  • Reasoning
    the action of thinking of something in a logical, sensible way
  • Preconventional Morality
    stage of moral development where morality is controlled by external forced such as rules, according to Kohlberg
  • Conventional Morality
    stage of moral development where morality is tied to relationships with others and with the self, according to Kohlberg
  • Postconventional Morality
    stage of moral development where morality is more abstract and stems from personal values and ideals, according to Kohlberg

Similar Starter Packs

All Resources