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Moral, Legal, and Aesthetic Reasoning

Lee is a Social Anthropology graduate with a master’s degree in Management who has a penchant for the written word.

Moore and Parker describe critical thinking as arguments that require evaluating and weighing to support personal claims against those that support alternative or contrary views. It consists of the rational evaluation of specific allegations that include examining and considering the arguments for and against (Moore and Parker, 4).


Moral reasoning is a thinking process to establish value judgment by determining whether an idea is "right," "wrong," "good," or "bad." These are reasoning on things that we should do and things that we should not do. In identifying the "ought to do" from "ought not do" things such as an idea, behavior, or action, it is crucial to know both the intents on what needs to be accomplished and the environment that exists from making the decision to execution of the decision. Thus, moral reasoning cannot be correctly performed until what is sought and the surrounding environment is fully understood. Moral arguments begin with non-moral statements of fact and conclude with a moral value judgment deriving an "ought" from an "is" is illogical. It's a type of fallacy called the naturalistic fallacy. An argument may avoid the naturalistic fallacy by incorporating a general moral principle that ties the statement of fact to the moral value judgment (Moore and Parker, 452-465).

Lawrence Kohlberg elaborates on the stages of moral reasoning through his Theory of Moral Development. The first stage of moral reasoning is pre-conventional morality. Here, the reasoning relies on punishment-obedience orientation—physical consequences are the determinant of a "good" and "bad" action, and instrumental relativist orientation—the "right" and "good" thing to do are that which satisfies the needs. At this stage, the reasoning focuses on the self. On the second stage is conventional morality, where "good boy- nice girl" and law and order orientation are included. It is about the image that others think and the approval for "good" behavior from the others. "Right behavior consists in doing one's duty, showing respect for authority, and maintaining the given social order for its own sake." The last stage is the post-conventional morality, where social contract orientation and universal ethical principle orientation are included. Here, the "right" action is determined by the greater good though the action opposes the pre-defined social order. The decision in making the correct choice is defined by the decision of conscience in agreement with self-chosen ethical principles tempting to logical comprehensiveness, universality, and consistency (Kohlberg, "Theory of Moral Development").

Legal reasoning, on the other hand, just like moral claims, is prescriptive: they tell us what we "ought to" do. But legal prescriptions carry the weight of the law behind them, whereas moral prescriptions alone do not. Justifying laws—determining what should be legal or illegal is grounded on legal moralism, harm principle, legal paternalism, and the offense principle. Legal moralism and harm principle justify a law forbidding an idea, behavior, or action on the grounds that doing so is immoral and harmful to others. Legal paternalism justifies a law forcing an idea, behavior, or action on people on the grounds that doing so is for a person's own good, while the offense principle justifies forbidding a law because it is offensive (Moore and Parker, 470).

Aesthetic Reasoning

Judgments about beauty and art, like moral and legal reasoning, rely on conceptual frameworks that integrate facts and values. Judgment about art is made when an appeal to aesthetic reason is exercised to defend or criticize value statements, using one or more of the eight value principles. One, objects are aesthetically valuable if they have a meaning or teach something true. This framework identifies value in art that fulfills a cultural or social function by teaching that non-art cannot provide. Secondly, Objects are aesthetically valuable if they express the values of the culture they arise in, or the artists who made them; this distinguishes value in art that fulfills cultural or social functions. Third, Objects are aesthetically valuable if they can lead to social change. It perceives value with art’s ability to perform cultural or social functions. The social change is an improvement, although not widely recognized at first. Fourth is that objects are aesthetically valuable if it address the audience’s pleasure—it contributes to the happiness, connecting value with a thing’s ability to produce a type of psychological experience. Fifth, objects are aesthetically valuable if it gives audience certain emotions that are valued—feelings that are not daily occurrences, but are valued for awakening the people. Sixth, objects are aesthetically valuable if it produce an exceptional non-emotional experience that comes only from art, such as the feeling of autonomy, or, the willing suspension of disbelief. Here, the aesthetic value comes down to the production of a particular subjective state, and as in the above, connects to a function of art. Objects are aesthetically valuable if they possess a unique aesthetic form such as beauty, unity, or organization. In its’ significant form, the art object is valuable for itself, not for function. Lastly, Objects are aesthetically valuable because of features that no reasons can determine, and no argument can establish the aesthetic value or valueless. This principle corresponds to moral subjectivism in the view that an object is aesthetically valuable if someone values it (Moore and Parker, 473-477).

As in moral and legal reasoning, in reasoning about art we appeal to more than one principle or framework in a single argument, though not always. An aesthetic argument describes features of a work that are relevant and descriptively true to a principle.

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Kohlberg, Lawrence. “Theory of Moral Development.” September 2000. Blessed to be a Blessing. Web. 28 July 2009.

Moore, Brooke Noel and Richard Parker. Critical thinking (7th ed.) New York: Mc Graw-Hill, 2004.

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