The emotional construction of morals * by Jesse Prinz * oxford university press, 2007. XII + 334 pp. 25.00: Summary [Book Review]

Analysis 69 (4):701-704 (2009)
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The Emotional Construction of Morals is a book about moral judgements – the kinds of mental states we might express by sentences such as, ‘It's bad to flash your neighbors’, or ‘You ought not eat your pets’. There are three basic questions that get addressed: what are the psychological states that constitute such judgements? What kinds of properties do such judgements refer to? And, where do these judgements come from? The first question concerns moral psychology, the second metaethics and the third is best construed as belonging to a domain that has been neglected in analytic value theory: the genealogy of morals. These are all separate branches of ethics, but they are interconnected. The thesis of the book is that moral judgements are emotional attitudes that refer to response-dependent properties, and that these responses have been shaped by cultural history. I call the view Constructive Sentimentalism. The first half of the book deals with sentiments, and the second half with construction. The second half also deals with relativism, because I argue that moral values are constructed differently across cultures and across individuals.Thus described, The Emotional Construction of Morals is a conventional contribution to analytic moral philosophy, taking on some of the core questions in that field and defending positions that have a long philosophical pedigree. Indeed, the theory I defend has roots in Hume and Nietzsche, though it departs from both in various ways. What makes the book somewhat unusual is that it seeks to defend traditional theories by appeal to recent work in psychology, neuroscience, anthropology and related fields. It is an exercise in methodological naturalism and committed to the view that we can answer traditional philosophical questions while treating ethics as a social science. Ethics and naturalism are hard to reconcile because ethics is a normative domain, …



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Jesse J. Prinz
CUNY Graduate Center

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