On Three Defenses of Sentimentalism

Prolegomena 12 (1):61-82 (2013)
This essay shows that a moral sense or moral sentiments alone cannot identify appropriate morals. To this end, the essay analyzes three defenses of Francis Hutcheson's, David Hume's, and Adam Smith's moral sense theories against the relativism charge that a moral sense or moral sentiments vary across people, societies, cultures, or times. The first defense is the claim that there is a universal moral sense or universal moral sentiments. However, even if they exist, a moral sense or moral sentiments alone cannot identify appropriate morals. The second defense is to adopt a general viewpoint theory, which identifies moral principles by taking a general viewpoint. But it needs to employ reason, and even if not, it does not guarantee that we identify appropriate morals. The third defense is to adopt an ideal observer theory, which draws moral principles from sentimental reactions of an ideal observer. Yet it still does not show that a moral sense or moral sentiments alone can identify appropriate morals.
Keywords ethics  Hume  Hutcheson  ideal observer  moral relativism  moral sense  moral sentiment  reason  Smith  universalism
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