The Limits of Moral Sense

Abstract
Examining the moral sense theories of Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith, this essay shows that the moral sense or moral sentiments in those theories alone cannot identify appropriate morals. Chapter 1 first introduces those theories and clarifies important differences between them. It then examines whether moral judgment based on the moral sense or moral sentiments varies according to one's metaphysical beliefs. For this, the essay mainly applies those theories to such issues as stem cell research, abortion, and active euthanasia. In all three theories, false religious beliefs can distort moral judgment. In Hutcheson's theory, answers to stem cell research, abortion, and active euthanasia do not change according to the spectator's metaphysical beliefs. Yet answers to those issues can change according to the agent's metaphysical beliefs. Hume's theory cannot provide answers to stem cell research and abortion where the embryo or fetus is the receiver (the one affected by the agent's action) and to active euthanasia where the patient is unconscious. It may provide answers to abortion where the pregnant woman is the receiver and to active euthanasia where the patient is conscious. Yet the answers can vary depending on the woman's or the patient's metaphysical beliefs. Smith's theory can provide answers to stem cell research, abortion, and active euthanasia. But the answers can vary depending on the agent's metaphysical beliefs. These show that the moral sense or moral sentiments in those theories alone cannot identify appropriate morals. Chapter 2 examines those theories from the perspective of the is-ought problem. According to one interpretation, Hume's or Smith's theory is just a description of human nature. In this case, it does not answer the question of how we ought to live. According to another interpretation, it has some normative implications. In this case, it draws normative claims from human nature. Anyway, the sentiments of anger, resentment, vengeance, superiority, sympathy, and benevolence show that drawing norms from human nature is sometimes morally problematic. The changeability of the moral sense and moral sentiments in Hume's and Smith's theories supports this idea. Hutcheson's theory is morally more appropriate because it bases morality on disinterested benevolence. Yet disinterested benevolence is not enough for morality. There are no sentiments the presence of which alone makes any action moral. Chapter 3 analyzes three defenses of those 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 Francis Hutcheson  David Hume  Adam Smith  moral sense  moral sentiment  sentimentalism  moral psychology  moral epistemology  metaethics  ethics
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