Reid and Moral Emotions

Journal of Scottish Philosophy 7 (2):177-192 (2009)
Abstract
The name of Thomas Reid rarely appears in discussions of the history of moral thought. This is a pity, since Reid has a lot of interesting ideas that can contribute to the current discussions in meta-ethics. Reid can be understood as an ethical intuitionist. What makes his account especially interesting is the role affective states play in his intuitionist theory. Reid defends a cognitive theory of moral emotions. According to Reid, there are moral feelings that are the result of a moral judgment made by reason. The judgment and the feeling together constitute what Reid calls sentiments. Reid thinks that affective states (feelings and sentiments) play the role of helping reason to guide and control the egoistic feelings and passions. The affective states are particularly important, in Reid's view, because the motivating force of reason is often defeated by the stronger motivating force of the passions. So without affective states, we would often not be able to do what is morally good or right. In this paper, I will argue that the role of the affective states is still too limited in Reid's approach. He takes affective states to have a merely motivational function, namely, to help reason to control the passions and motivate to action where reason is too weak. Reid thinks that in making moral judgments we do not need to have feelings, feelings are at most a result of a judgment. Instead, I will argue that affective states also play an epistemological role
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