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Moral sentimentalism

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L3578-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2015
Retrieved July 25, 2024, from

Article Summary

‘Sentimentalism’ is a name for a wide class of views in value theory. Sentimentalist views are unified by their commitment to the idea that normative or evaluative properties or concepts are best explained in a way that relies, in some fundamental way, on an appeal to the emotional and affective nature of human beings. ‘Moral sentimentalism’ is simply sentimentalism that restricts its focus to moral properties or concepts. Moral sentimentalism contrasts importantly with moral rationalism, according to which the foundation of morality is to be found in the human capacity for reason. Often this capacity is taken to be of the same sort that yields knowledge of the truths of logic, mathematics or physics. Hume can be taken as an arch sentimentalist, and Kant as an arch rationalist.

Sentimentalism takes six primary forms: expressivism, quasi-realism, dispositionalism, fitting-attitude views, reference-fixing views and rational sentimentalism. Expressivism holds that normative judgements are expressions of attitudes such as approval and disapproval. Quasi-realism can be seen as a sophisticated version of expressivism that attempts to vindicate our thinking and talking as if moral judgements were truth-apt. Dispositionalism, on the other hand, straightforwardly makes moral talk truth-apt by understanding it as factual talk about our emotional dispositions. Fitting-attitude views are similar to dispositional views, but they replace talk of causing certain attitudes with talk of meriting them or making them fitting. Reference-fixing views use our sentiments just as an account of heat might use our capacity to feel heat: as detectors of objective and external properties, the essences of which we can then discover. Finally, rational sentimentalism holds that concepts such as the pitiful or the admirable are ones we use to help regulate, by reflection and argument, motivational attitudes such as pity and admiration.

Citing this article:
Gert, Joshua. Moral sentimentalism, 2015, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L3578-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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