Neuroethics Publications

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version



Ethical disputes arise over differences in the content of the ethical beliefs people hold on either side of an issue. One person may believe that it is wrong to have an abortion for financial reasons, whereas another may believe it to be permissible. But, the magnitude and difficulty of such disputes may also depend on other properties of the ethical beliefs in question-in particular, how objective they are perceived to be. As a psychological property of moral belief, objectivity is relatively unexplored, and we argue that it merits more attention. We review recent psychological evidence which demonstrates that individuals differ in the extent to which they perceive ethical beliefs to be objective, that some ethical beliefs are perceived to be more objective than others, and that both these sources of variance are somewhat systematic. This evidence also shows that differences in perceptions of objectivity underpin quite different psychological reactions to ethical disagreement. Apart from reviewing this evidence, our aim in this paper is to draw attention to unanswered psychological questions about moral objectivity, and to discuss the relevance of moral objectivity to two issues of public policy.


Suggested Citation:
G.P. Goodwin and J.M. Darley. (2009). "The Perceived Objectivity of Ethical Beliefs: Psychological Findings and Implications for Public Policy." Review of Philosophy and Psychology. Vol. 1(2). pp. 161-188.

The final publication is available at


Public Policy, Objectivity, Ethical Beliefs



Date Posted: 31 May 2011

This document has been peer reviewed.