Sentimentalist Pluralism

Sentimentalist Pluralism - Philosophical Issues 18...

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Philosophical Issues, 18, Interdisciplinary Core Philosophy, 2008 SENTIMENTALIST PLURALISM: MORAL PSYCHOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHICAL ETHICS Michael B. Gill and Shaun Nichols University of Arizona When making moral judgments, people are typically guided by a plural- ity of moral rules. These rules owe their existence to human emotions but are not simply equivalent to those emotions. And people’s moral judgments ought to be guided by a plurality of emotion-based rules. The view just stated combines three positions on moral judgment: [1] moral sentimentalism, which holds that sentiments play an essential role in moral judgment, 1 [2] descriptive moral pluralism, which holds that commonsense moral judgment is guided by a plurality of moral rules, 2 and [3] prescriptive moral pluralism, which holds that moral judgment ought to be guided by a plurality of moral rules. In what follows, we will argue for all three positions. We will not present a comprehensive case for these positions nor address many of the arguments philosophers have developed against them. What we will try to show is that recent psychological work supports sentimentalist pluralism in both its descriptive and prescriptive forms. 1. Moral Sentimentalism Moral judgment is an obvious candidate for psychological investigation, for moral judgment is at least partly a psychological phenomenon. 3 We begin by reviewing important recent evidence that indicates that emotions play a crucial role in generating ordinary moral judgments. 4 Work on the “moral/conventional” distinction provides one source of evidence for the role of emotion in moral judgment (Blair 1995, 1997, Turiel 1983). Drawing inspiration from moral philosophers, developmental psychologists over the last quarter century compared children’s responses to “moral” violations, such as unprovoked hitting, to their responses to
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144 Michael B. Gill and Shaun Nichols “conventional” violations, such as talking in class. Psychologists found that children’s reactions to unprovoked hitting and other “moral” violations differed significantly from their reactions to violations of classroom rules. Children judged hitting to be more seriously wrong than talking in class. Children typically said that hitting would be wrong even if the teacher had no rule against it, but they were less likely to say that about talking in class. And children tended to justify their answers by saying that hitting is wrong because it hurts the person but that talking in class is wrong because it’s against the rules. These distinctions may not be altogether surprising. What is surprising and illuminating is that emotions apparently play an important role in generating these distinctions. For although psychopaths are apparently normal on standard cognitive and intellectual measures, they have diminished emotional responses to suffering in others, and James Blair has found that psychopaths, and children with psychopathic tendencies, perform atypically on the moral/conventional task (Blair 1995, Blair 1997). This
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Sentimentalist Pluralism - Philosophical Issues 18...

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