Two Arguments for Sentimentalism

Philosophical Issues 15 (1):1-21 (2005)
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Abstract

‘Sentimentalism’ is an old-fashioned name for the philosophical suggestion that moral or evaluative concepts or properties depend somehow upon human sentiments. This general idea has proven attractive to a number of contemporary philosophers with little else in common. Yet most sentimentalists say very little about the nature of the sentiments to which they appeal, and many seem prepared to enlist almost any object-directed pleasant or unpleasant state of mind as a sentiment. Furthermore, because battles between sentimentalism and its rivals have tended to be joined over large issues about realism and antirealism, or cognitivism and noncognitivism, some attractive reasons for adopting sentimentalism which are to some extent independent of these issues have been largely ignored in metaethical discussion. This paper aims to motivate sentimentalism, but also to circumscribe its ambitions by rendering explicit some tacit assumptions in moral psychology on which I think the most promising sentimentalism depends. I begin (in section one) by sketching the kind of sentimentalism that I want to defend. Then, in sections two and three, I articulate two positive arguments for a sentimentalist understanding of certain evaluative concepts. The arguments I consider have their origins in the writings of various other authors, I think, but neither they nor their consequences have been clearly articulated before. In section four, I explore just what the sentiments would have to be like in order to play the role required of them in the arguments I develop. I will suggest that these arguments supply a highly specific ‘job description’ for the states to which sentimentalism appeals. Hence, sentimentalists who want to use these arguments, or ones like them, cannot be as casual about what they mean by ‘sentiments’ as many have tended to be. I then investigate a category of ‘natural emotions’ that meets that job description rather nicely, and offer some reasons for doubting that more inclusive categories of....

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Justin D'Arms
Ohio State University