Biology and Philosophy 33 (3-4):22 (2018)

Paul E. Carron
Baylor University
This essay draws on Adam Smith’s moral sentimentalism to critique primatologist Frans de Waal’s gradualist theory of human morality. De Waal has spent his career arguing for continuity between primate behavior and human morality, proposing that empathy is a primary moral building block evident in primate behavior. Smith’s moral sentimentalism—with its emphasis on the role of sympathy in moral virtue—provides the philosophical framework for de Waal’s understanding of morality. Smith’s notion of sympathy and the imagination involved in sympathy is qualitatively different from animal sympathy. I argue that Smithian sympathy includes the ability to represent propositional attitudes and take into account multiple perspectives which are then synthesized into a singular impartial perspective. Furthermore, Smithian moral judgment requires the capacity for emotion regulation and moral self-cultivation, or the ability to shape and control one’s reactive attitudes. Taken together, these capacities far outstrip the capacities of animals, disrupting de Waal’s gradualism.
Keywords Ethics  Moral psychology  Sentimentalism  Primatology  Adam Smith
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-018-9632-4
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A Natural History of Human Morality.Michael Tomasello (ed.) - 2016 - Harvard University Press.

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