Sentimentalism naturalized

Abstract

Sentimentalism, the idea that the emotions or sentiments are crucial to moral judgment, has a long and distinguished history. Throughout this history, sentimentalists have often viewed themselves as offering a more naturalistically respectable account of moral judgment. In this paper, I’ll argue that they have not been naturalistic enough. The early, simple versions of sentimentalism met with decisive objections. The contemporary sentimentalist accounts successfully dodge these objections, but only by promoting an account of moral judgment that is far too complex to be a plausible account of moral judgment on the ground. I argue that recent evidence on moral judgment indicates that emotional responses do indeed play a key role in everyday moral judgment. However, the emotions themselves are only one part of moral judgment; internally represented rules make an independent contribution to moral judgment. This account of moral judgment is grounded in the empirical evidence, but it can also handle a cluster of desiderata that concern philosophical sentimentalists. If emotions and rules do make independent contributions to moral judgment, this raises a puzzle. For our rules tend to be well coordinated with our emotions. In the final section, I’ll argue that this coordination can be partly explained by appealing to the role of cultural evolution in the history of norms.

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