Craving the Right: Emotions and Moral Reasons

In Carla Bagnoli (ed.), Morality and the Emotions. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press. pp. 39 (2011)
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I first began working on emotions as a project in philosophy of action, without particular reference to moral philosophy. My thought was that emotions have a distinctive role to play in rationality that tends to be underappreciated by philosophers. Bringing this out was meant to counter a widespread tendency to treat emotions as “blind” causes of action (for the general picture, see Greenspan 2009.) Instead, I thought that emotions could be seen as providing reasons. I took their significance as moral motivators to be hard to miss. Of course, philosophers and others sometimes rightly insist that we need to put emotions aside in order to formulate satisfying moral principles, but I would have been surprised to hear anyone deny that moral motivation typically rests on emotion and that we need that basis in early life in order to get to the stage of acting on moral principles. However, I have since come to think that none of the main philosophical approaches to ethics fully appreciates the significance of emotion, in part because of a misconception of practical reasons. Reasons for action are commonly taken as prima facie requirements, so that moral reasons would yield requirements just insofar as they outweigh competing reasons such as reasons of simple self-interest. Someone who recognizes a moral reason as holding “all things considered” would be irrational not to act on it. But I argue in recent work (starting with Greenspan 2005) that even all-things-considered reasons may in one sense be optional: a rational agent can legitimately “discount” them, cancelling their deliberative weight and their force for motivation. What keeps us from setting aside reasons of the sort that underlie moral..



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Patricia S. Greenspan
University of Maryland, College Park

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References found in this work

The Emotions.Nico H. Frijda - 1986 - Cambridge University Press.
The Moralistic Fallacy: On the 'Appropriateness' of Emotions.Justin D'Arms & Daniel Jacobson - 2000 - Philosophical and Phenomenological Research 61 (1):65-90.
Practical Reason and Norms.Joseph Raz - 1975 - Law and Philosophy 12 (3):329-343.

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