Institute for Religion & Critical Inquiry

Moral Disagreements: Philosophical and Practical Implications

Project Leader: Richard Rowland

Widespread disagreement about moral issues is a salient feature of moral thought and discourse in contemporary pluralistic societies. This project explores the metaphysical, epistemological, and practical implications of moral disagreement and whether deep and fundamental moral disagreements can be overcome.

The project involves the world’s first deliberative poll on a fundamental moral issue. In deliberative polls a large number – at least 200 – people with different views on political and policy issues come together to deliberate about a particular policy issue (such as, for instance, whether we should focus on responses to crime other than imprisonment). Participants are given information about the issue in question that has been rigorously vetted to ensure its neutrality. They deliberate with one another in small and larger groups about the issue in question for 1-2 days. Before the deliberation participants are anonymously polled about the issue that they will subsequently deliberate about. They are then anonymously polled again after the deliberation.

Over 70 deliberative polls have been conducted on different policy issues in 24 different countries. And significantly more convergence in the relevant views of participants has been found after the two days of deliberation than before the two days of deliberation.  Although over 70 deliberative polls have been conducted there has yet to be one on fundamental moral issues; all the polls thus far have concerned issues of policy and the probable consequences of various policies rather than the moral desirability, or rightness or wrongness of particular outcomes. In collaboration with members of Stanford University’s Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Canberra University’s Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance this project will conduct the first deliberative polls on fundamental moral issues. These polls will shed light on whether deliberation can help to overcome deep moral disagreement.