Sentimental Rules: On the Natural Foundations of Moral Judgment

Sentimental Rules: On the Natural Foundations of Moral Judgment

Sentimental Rules: On the Natural Foundations of Moral Judgment

Sentimental Rules: On the Natural Foundations of Moral Judgment

Synopsis

Sentimental Rules is an ambitious and highly interdisciplinary work, which proposes and defends a new theory about the nature and evolution of moral judgment. In it, philosopher Shaun Nichols develops the theory that emotions play a critical role in both the psychological and the culturalunderpinnings of basic moral judgment. Nichols argues that our norms prohibiting the harming of others are fundamentally associated with our emotional responses to those harms, and that such 'sentimental rules' enjoy an advantage in cultural evolution, which partly explains the success of certainmoral norms. This has sweeping and exciting implications for philosophical ethics. Nichols builds on an explosion of recent intriguing experimental work in psychology on our capacity for moral judgment and shows how this empirical work has broad import for enduring philosophical problems. The result is an account that illuminates fundamental questions about the character of moralemotions and the role of sentiment and reason in how we make our moral judgments. This work should appeal widely across philosophy and the other disciplines that comprise cognitive science.

Excerpt

A few basic questions about the nature of morality command the attention even of those not steeped in philosophical training. Is morality grounded in rationality or does it depend crucially on the emotions? How did our moral system evolve to its present shape and character? Is morality objective? Would the rejection of moral objectivity have dire consequences for our normative lives? These are the kinds of questions that grab the novice to moral philosophy, and they are the questions that guided the explorations charted in this volume.

My pursuit of these fundamental metaethical issues has been thoroughly interdisciplinary, exploiting resources from philosophy, cognitive psychopathology, developmental psychology, cognitive anthropology, and social history. This interdisciplinary approach was not driven by any principled ecumenism. Rather, in trying to get a purchase on philosophical issues about, say, the role of sentiment in moral judgment or the genealogy of morals, I found myself driven to other disciplines to obtain the kind of information that seemed relevant to the issues. It turns out that there is a great deal of extant empirical work that is philosophically instructive, as I hope to display in this volume. in some instances, the relevant empirical information simply hadn’t been sought, though it . . .

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