Emotions in Moral Philosophy
David Brax, KI and University of Gothenburg
Moral Philosophy
Applied Ethics: particular moral questions
Normative ethics: What ought we to do,
Meta-ethics: Is there moral knowledge? Are there
moral facts? What is the meaning of moral terms?
Moral psychology: How do moral faculties work?
My stance: Collaborative efforts should focus more on
addressing meta-ethical questions, via moral psychology
Normative implications and applications: How
should we treat people with moral dysfunction?
Moral Sentimentalism
Moral Sentimentalism (David
Opposed to Rationalism
(Immanuel Kant)
Moral judgments can’t be based on
reason alone - emotions are needed
In particular: sympathy
The more precise role of emotion in
morality was and remains unclear
Emotion, Morality and Motivation
• The link goes via motivation: To
judge something right involves
motivation to act accordingly
• Emotions respond to, and
constitute, certain facts as reasons
• In order to be moral agents, we
must be able to respond to reasons
• Quite generally: emotions provide
evaluative salience. ”Valence”
Diffent Roles for Emotions
• Projectivism/Subjectivism/Response Dependency: Moral Facts are those that
cause certain emotional responses
Expressivism: Moral Judgments express certain emotions
Focus: Emotions play a key role in moral learning/development. And in
subsequent behavioral regulation
Mental state theory: Emotional states constitutive moral facts: Emotions are
what matters
• Emotions are our primary source of moral evidence
Emotion and Moral Responsibility
Emotional dysfunction is associated with anti-social behavior
Not restricted to ”passion crimes”: Emotional dysfunction inhibits
the acquisition of moral abilities and moral knowledge
A subclass of ”Bad” people may be blameless due to ignorance,
not of consequences, but of their moral significance
Ability to recognise that the emotional states of others matter is
constitutive of morality. (Psychopaths as ”morally blind”)
Should they be held morally/legally responsible for this disability?
Depends on the function of criminal punishment (retribution,
protection, rehabilitation, utility etc.)
• Moral sentimentalism: Emotions are central to morality, in a
couple of ways:
• 1) Emotions matters - they are constitutive of moral facts
• 2) Emotions are central to moral knowledge, and to moral
• If an agent suffers from an emotional dysfunction, then she may
lack moral evidence or capacity to assess the moral significance of
her actions
• Information about emotional dysfunction, then, should be
considered when assessing moral responsibility, and when
determining criminal punishment or treatment

Emotions in Moral Philosophy