Sentimentalist Virtue Ethics

In Lorraine L. Besser & Michael Slote (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Virtue Ethics. New York, USA: Routledge. pp. 197-208 (2015)
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Moral sentimentalism can be understood as a metaethical theory, a normative theory, or some combination of the two. Metaethical sentimentalism emphasizes the role of affect in the proper psychology of moral judgment, while normative sentimentalism emphasizes the centrality of warm emotions to the phenomena of which these judgments properly approve. Neither form of sentimentalism necessarily implies a commitment to virtue ethics, but both have an elective affinity with it. The classical metaethical sentimentalists of the Scottish Enlightenment—such as David Hume and Adam Smith—were all, to a greater or lesser extent, also virtue theorists. The connection is even stronger in the case of Enlightenment philosophers who were also normative sentimentalists , as with Frances Hutcheson. For Hutcheson, virtue simply is a habit of acting from the warm motive of universal benevolence. Today, neo-sentimentalist metaethicists such as Allan Gibbard, Justin D’Arms and Daniel Jacobson generally remain agnostic on the question of whether virtue ethics is superior to its deontological and consequentialist competitors. Michael Slote, however, has developed a comprehensive theory of sentimentalist care ethics in an unambiguously virtue-centered form.

Author Profiles

Michael Slote
University of Miami
Michael L. Frazer
University of East Anglia


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