Sensible thinking (analytic or rational idea) is typically worried about what is or is not true or false with some greater or lower strength of (logical) conviction. It gives us concepts for deciding what to believe and accept as understanding as opposed to what not to believe and what to reject as knowledge.
Moral reasoning in specific is concerned with what is ideal or incorrect, great or bad, here again with some greater or lesser strength of (ethical) conviction. It supplies us with principles for choosing what to do and how to act and communicate, rather than what to refrain from doing and how not to act and communicate.
The difficulty is that these 2 modes of reasoning, as it were, overlap – they intersect in apparent ways: e.g. ‘one ought to believe what holds true and decline what is false,’ clearly certifies as an ethical judgment and ethical concept. At the very same time, any choice to act or communicate in one way or another needs to be justified by rational principles applied to moral assertions.
Example: one of Kant’s categorical imperatives is, “one need to do only what one can will that all others ought to do under similar circumstances.” Categorical imperatives, for Kant at least, are unconditional ethical laws that use to all reasonable beings; they are independent of any individual motive or desire.
To highlight the problem using Kant’s essential, think about the existing front runners for the upcoming election for the United States presidency – Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump. An argument for either prospect might be:
- One should do only what one can will that all others need to do under similar scenarios.
- If I had my method (if my will prevailed), everyone needs to vote for candidate X.
- For That Reason, by # 1 and # 2, I should elect prospect X (and everyone else must too).
Observe that this argument is both rationally and morally sound, regardless which candidate is replacemented for X – the argument works equally well for either Clinton or Trump. Perhaps this is what’s described as ‘the will of individuals’ being expressed at the surveys. However the issue doesn’t end here.
Thinker David Hume mentioned the ‘ is/ought space,’ specifically, that any argument with an ‘ought’ conclusion must have at least one ‘ought’ premise. # 1, # 2, and # 3 in the argument above are all ‘ought’ statements (‘ need to’ appears in all three), so this criterion is satisfied.
Hume’s major issue was the intrinsic distinction in between what is, on one hand, vs. what ought to be, on the other. Not least of the problems captured up in this difference is the easy reality that one may completely well think and know what one ought to do, however at the end of the day, select to do something entirely different. I may be strongly persuaded and convicted that Clinton needs to be the next US President, yet walk right into the voting booth and cast my choose Gary Johnson anyway.
[The logically fallacious and morally corrupt 2016 Presidential election is an entirely different matter, which I’ll soon be addressing on my blog, www.semiotic.com.]
I strongly believe with excellent conviction that one must not consume more calories than they burn up in a day, calorie intake ought to be far more nutritious than simply self-indulgent, and one must routinely exercise both vigorously and moderately. Provided any chance, nevertheless, I will regularly pick dark chocolate over kale, espresso over green tea, and a movie on TV over swimming laps or taking a walk.
Am I therefore illogical or unethical – or both? Strictly speaking, yes: I’ve acted in a manner that is logically inconsistent with my ethical beliefs. When I eat the kale, consume the green tea, and swim laps or take a walk, I’m acting in such a way that is rationally consistent with my moral (‘ I should …’ or ‘I ought …’) beliefs and ethical principles.
When I change the argument to enable exceptional violations or to normally validate actions that still contravene underlying categorical imperatives (e.g. ‘one should maintain health with a nutritious diet and routinely workout’), this is called a justification
The bottom line is that rational reasoning is the broad classification. Moral thinking is a mode or kind of thinking subsumed within that broader category. Moral thinking is specifically interested in claims and beliefs concerning what ought to be true, what ought to be done, etc, apart from what may or may not factually be the case.