Moral philosophy is obsessed with moral judgements. As is moral psychology. And this is a problem.
Moral philosophy cares about moral judgements because it wants to figure out how to make the right ones, and how to know they’re right. Metaethicists are interested in what moral judgements themselves are.
Moral psychology cares about moral judgements because it wants to figure out by which thought processes people arrive at them.
But the problem is that morality isn’t just about judgements, it’s about behaviour. And it seems to me there’s a dearth of research showing how someone goes from moral judgement X to corresponding behaviour Y.
Or why two individuals might go from the same moral judgement X to differing behaviours Y and Z.
Or why someone can hold moral judgement X to be correct, and not perform the corresponding behaviour Y.
Or why someone could hold moral judgement X to be correct, and not know how to behave.
I could go on. But the moral of the story is clear (if you excuse the pun): there is a clear gulf between judgement and action, and that gulf is tremendously important if moral philosophers and moral psychologists want to develop a complete picture of not only what constitutes good behaviour, but how to bring it about.
My concern on the philosophy side is that even if we have a foolproof moral theory that allows us to arrive at the correct moral judgement in any situation (a scenario I find implausible, but let’s assume it’s possible), we might still fail to account for the way behaviour does or doesn’t spring from someone holding that correct judgement. We might even already have the answer, but we’ve failed to connect the dots so people are none the wiser in terms of how to behave.
There’s also the issue of moral decision making. A complete moral theory might provide the tools to evaluate a particular action or outcome and determine whether it was right/wrong or good/bad, but it might not provide the tools for individuals to make moral judgements on the fly, as they’ll need to when it comes to responding to the world around them.
As far as I can see, the vast majority of moral philosophy and moral psychology – the former with it’s emphasis on justification, the latter with its trolley dilemmas – have neglected the final crucial step from judgement to behaviour. Even those philosophers who have looked at practical reason and action theory still talk about both theoretically; they talk about how to understand an action or how to judge its merits after the fact.
No-one I know of gives a thorough philosophical and psychological account of how, given a certain theory or belief, to reliably turn that into behaviour on a day-to-day basis.
The closest I can think of is virtue ethicists who seek to cultivate the kind of disposition that will produce the desired behaviours. But even then, virtue ethicists need a comprehensive account of psychology to explain how certain characteristics lead to certain behaviours and why these behaviours are good.
I know it’s all too easy to get sucked in to the current debates. But this is dangerous when the current debates focus on only a fraction of the whole picture, leaving crucially important issues untouched. Particularly when those issues are as important as how to encourage people to behave morally.
My suggested solution: don’t necessarily stop philosophers or psychologists from doing their present research, but encourage an acknowledgement that morality is about behaviour, and a completed moral theory is one that enables people to behave in accordance with the theory. This might inspire more research into that final leap. Because any moral theory that doesn’t include behaviour is not a complete moral theory.