The Limits of Emotion in Moral Judgment

In Karen Jones & François Schroeter (eds.), The Many Moral Rationalisms. New York: Oxford Univerisity Press. pp. 286-306 (2018)
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Abstract

I argue that our best science supports the rationalist idea that, independent of reasoning, emotions aren’t integral to moral judgment. There’s ample evidence that ordinary moral cognition often involves conscious and unconscious reasoning about an action’s outcomes and the agent’s role in bringing them about. Emotions can aid in moral reasoning by, for example, drawing one’s attention to such information. However, there is no compelling evidence for the decidedly sentimentalist claim that mere feelings are causally necessary or sufficient for making a moral judgment or for treating norms as distinctively moral. I conclude that, even if moral cognition is largely driven by automatic intuitions, these shouldn’t be mistaken for emotions or their non-cognitive components. Non-cognitive elements in our psychology may be required for normal moral development and motivation but not necessarily for mature moral judgment.

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Joshua May
University of Alabama, Birmingham

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