Harm, Affect, and the Moral/Conventional Distinction

Daniel Kelly, Stephen Stich, Kevin J. Haley, Serena J. Eng, Daniel M.T. Fessler

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Commonsense intuition seems to recognize a distinction between two quite different sorts of rules governing behavior, namely moral rules and conventional rules. Prototypical examples of moral rules include those prohibiting killing or injuring other people, stealing their property, or breaking promises. Prototypical examples of conventional rules include those prohibiting wearing gender-inappropriate clothing (e.g., men wearing dresses), licking one's plate at the dinner table, and talking in a classroom when one has not been called on by the teacher. Philosophers approaching this issue from many different perspectives have tried to specify the features that a rule must have if it is to count as moral or conventional, though no consensus has emerged. Starting in the mid-1970s, however, a number of psychologists, following the lead of Elliott Turiel, have offered characterizations of the distinction between moral and conventional rules, and have gone on to argue that the distinction is both psychologically real and psychologically important. This chapter discusses the core features of moral and conventional rules. It then presents an experimental paradigm to make the case that the moral/conventional distinction characterized in this way is both psychologically real and psychologically important. This is followed by a study on whether there are harmful transgressions that do not evoke the signature moral responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCollected Papers, Volume 2
Subtitle of host publicationKnowledge, Rationality, and Morality, 1978-2010
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199949823
ISBN (Print)9780199733477
StatePublished - Sep 20 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


  • Conventional rules
  • Experimental paradigm
  • Moral response
  • Moral rules


Dive into the research topics of 'Harm, Affect, and the Moral/Conventional Distinction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this