Emotions in Moral Philosophy
David Brax, KI and University of Gothenburg
Moral Philosophy
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Applied Ethics: particular moral questions
•
Normative ethics: What ought we to do,
generally?
•
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
Hume)
•
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.)
Summary
• 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
functioning
• 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
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Emotions in Moral Philosophy