According to Cicero, “all emotions spring from the roots of error: they should not be pruned or clipped here and there, but yanked out” (Cicero 2002: 60). The Stoic enthusiasm for the extirpation of emotion is radical in two respects, both of which can be expressed with the claim that emotional responses are never appropriate. First, the Stoics held that emotions are incompatible with virtue, since the virtuous man will retain his equanimity whatever his fate. Grief is always vicious, both (...) bad and bad for you, even when directed at events commonly considered tragic, such as the loss of one’s child. Second, they buttressed this view with an account of the nature of emotion and its relation to value. Emotions are evaluative judgments that are systematically false, because they attribute significant value or disvalue to external things and events beyond an agent’s control—such as wealth, honor, pain, and death—which are merely “indifferents”: neither good nor bad.1.. (shrink)
Examine it in all lights and see if you can find that matter of fact…which you call vice…The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You can never find it until you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, toward that action. (Hume, 1978, pp. 468-9).
This discussion explores the moral psychology and metaethics of Michael Slote's Moral Sentimentalism. I argue that his account of empathy has an important lacuna, because the sense in which an empathizer feels the same feeling that his target feels requires explanation, and the most promising candidates are unavailable to Slote. I then argue that the (highly original) theory of moral approval and disapproval that Slote develops in his book is implausible, both phenomenologically and for the role it accords to empathy. (...) Finally, I suggest that these problems in moral psychology undermine Slote's metaethical argument for identifying rightness and wrongness with agential warmth and coldness in action. (shrink)
Evolutionary attempts to explain morality tend to say very little about what morality is. If evolutionary game theory aspires not merely to solve the ‘problem of altruism', but to explain human morality or justice in particular, it requires an appropriate conception of that subject matter. This paper argues that one plausible conception of morality (a sanction-based conception) creates some important constraints on the kinds of evolutionary explanations that can shed light on morality. Game theoretic approaches must either meet these constraints, (...) or defend an alternative conception of morality. Skyrms’ model of the evolution of justice is found to violate the constraints imposed by the sanction-based conception. (shrink)
Philosophers often call emotions appropriate or inappropriate. What is meant by such talk? In one sense, explicated in this paper, to call an emotion appropriate is to say that the emotion is fitting: it accurately presents its object as having certain evaluative features. For instance, envy might be thought appropriate when one's rival has something good which one lacks. But someone might grant that a circumstance has these features, yet deny that envy is appropriate, on the grounds that it is (...) wrong to be envious. These two senses of `appropriate' have much less in common than philosophers have supposed. Indeed, the distinction between propriety and correctness is crucial to understanding the distinctive role of the emotions in ethics. We argue here that an emotion can be fitting despite being wrong to feel, and that various philosophical arguments are guilty of a systematic error which we term the moralistic fallacy. (shrink)
Game theoretic explanations of the evolution of human behavior have become increasingly widespread. At their best, they allow us to abstract from misleading particulars in order to better recognize and appreciate broad patterns in the phenomena of human social life. We discuss this explanatory strategy, contrasting it with the particularist methodology of contemporary evolutionary psychology. We introduce some guidelines for the assessment of evolutionary game theoretic explanations of human behavior: such explanations should be representative, robust, and flexible. Distinguishing these features (...) sharply can help to clarify the import and accuracy of game theorists' claims about the robustness and stability of their explanatory schemes. Our central example is the work of Brian Skyrms, who offers a game theoretic account of the evolution of our sense of justice. Modeling the same Nash game as Skyrms, we show that, while Skyrms' account is robust with respect to certain kinds of variation, it fares less well in other respects. (shrink)