Emotions and incommensurable moral concepts

Philosophy 76 (4):585-604 (2001)
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Abstract

Many authors have argued that emotions serve an epistemic role in our moral practice. Some argue that this epistemic connection is so strong that creatures who do not share our affective nature will be unable to grasp our moral concepts. I argue that even if this sort of incommensurability does result from the role of affect in morality, incommensurability does not in itself entail relativism. In any case, there is no reason to suppose that one must share our emotions and concerns to be able to apply our moral concept successfully. Finally, I briefly investigate whether the moral realist can seek aid and comfort from Davidsonian arguments to the effect that incommensurability in ethics is in principle impossible, and decide that these arguments are not successful. I conclude that the epistemic role our emotions play in moral discourse does not relativize morality.

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Jeremy Koons
Georgetown University

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