No Need to Get Emotional? Emotions and Heuristics

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (4):845-862 (2012)
Many believe that values are crucially dependent on emotions. This paper focuses on epistemic aspects of the putative link between emotions and value by asking two related questions. First, how exactly are emotions supposed to latch onto or track values? And second, how well suited are emotions to detecting or learning about values? To answer the first question, the paper develops the heuristics-model of emotions. This approach models emotions as sui generis heuristics of value. The empirical plausibility of the heuristics-model is demonstrated using evidence from experimental psychology, evolutionary anthropology and neuroscience. The model is used then to answer the second question. If emotions are indeed heuristics of value, then it follows that emotions can be an important and useful source of information about value. However, emotions will not be epistemically superior in the sense of being the highest court of appeal for the justification of axiological beliefs (the latter view is referred to as the Epistemic Dependence Thesis, or EDT for short). The paper applies the heuristics-model to celebrated cases from the philosophy of emotions literature arguing that while the heuristics-model offers a good explanation of typical patterns of emotional reactions in such cases, advocates of EDT will have a hard time accounting for these patterns. The paper also shows that the conclusions drawn from special cases generalize. The paper ends by arguing that skepticism about the metaethical significance of emotions is compatible with a commitment to the importance of emotions in first-order normative ethics.
Keywords Emotions  Heuristics  Sentimentalism  Metaethics  Value
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DOI 10.1007/s10677-012-9386-z
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