Feelings in moral conflict and the hazards of emotional intelligence

Abstract

From some perspectives, it seems obvious that emotions and feelings must be both reasonable and morally significant: from others, it may seem as obvious that they cannot be. This paper seeks to advance discussion of ethical implications of the currently contested issue of the relationship of reason to feeling and emotion via reflection upon various examples of affectively charged moral dilemma. This discussion also proceeds by way of critical consideration of recent empirical enquiry into these issues in the literature of so-called emotional intelligence. In this regard, despite ambiguities in their accounts of the relationship of reason to emotion, advocates of emotional intelligence generally incline to therapeutic conceptions of emotional health which are not inconsistent with currently fashionable cognitivist accounts of feeling and emotion. All the same, it is arguable that therapeutic or other strategies which overplay the possibility of cognitive or other resolution of emotional conflict are prey to certain difficulties. First, they underemphasise those passive but identity-constitutive aspects of affect which are not obviously rationally accountable. Secondly, they insufficiently recognise the extent to which emotional conflicts can be significantly implicated in moral diversity. In view of either or both of these points, they may fail to appreciate the moral inappropriateness of attempts to resolve certain forms of emotional conflict or tension.

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