The Rationality And Moral Significance Of Emotions

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Love, joy, grief, pride, shame, hate, fear, envy. We all have emotions and we recognise emotions in others. It is remarkable how often we are wrong about our own emotions and misread the emotions of others. Philosophers often call emotions appropriate or inappropriate. Virtue ethicists put a lot of importance to emotions and claim that emotions are an essential motivator of ethical behaviour and we should ethically assess people’s emotions responses directly (de Sousa 2014). The rationality and moral significance of emotions remains debatable due to the ambiguous questions about their justification. Many emotions seem to involve positive or negative evaluations of their objects e.g. to be angry at me is to evaluate me negatively. However, emotions are not necessarily tied to evaluative judgements, because we can be irrationally angry at someone even though we judge that they have done nothing wrong. And so, D’Arms & Jacobson (2000) describe emotions as involving “evaluative presentations” that do not force us to make the evaluative judgement, but put pressure on us to make judgement. The question then, is how can we evaluate emotional responses and whether such emotional responses are true or fitting or prudentially useful or morally right? Many emotions are associated with beliefs or judgements. Empirical thinking is primarily linked to experience in the sense that perceptual experiences can provide reasons for empirical belief and judgement (Goldie 2004). One
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