Sentimentalism and Metaphysical Beliefs

Prolegomena 9 (2):271-286 (2010)
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Abstract
This essay first introduces the moral sense theories of Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith, and clarifies important differences between them. It then examines whether moral judgment based on the moral sense or moral sentiments varies according to one's metaphysical beliefs. For this, the essay mainly applies those theories to such issues as stem cell research, abortion, and active euthanasia. In all three theories, false religious beliefs can distort moral judgment. In Hutcheson's theory, answers to stem cell research, abortion, and active euthanasia do not change according to the spectator's metaphysical beliefs. Yet answers to those issues can change according to the agent's metaphysical beliefs. Hume's theory cannot provide answers to stem cell research and abortion where the embryo or fetus is the receiver (the one affected by the agent's action) and to active euthanasia where the patient is unconscious. It may provide answers to abortion where the pregnant woman is the receiver and to active euthanasia where the patient is conscious. Yet the answers can vary depending on the woman's or the patient's metaphysical beliefs. Smith's theory can provide answers to stem cell research, abortion, and active euthanasia. But the answers can vary depending on the agent's metaphysical beliefs. These show that the moral sense or moral sentiments in those theories alone cannot identify appropriate morals.
Keywords abortion  active euthanasia  Hume  Hutcheson  moral judgment  moral sense  moral sentiment  religious belief  Smith  stem cell
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