Emotion, Virtue, and Moral Perception: A Defense of Moral Intuitions Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 22, 2019
  • Sias, James
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy
  • Many think that, if our moral intuitions are grounded in emotion, then they are probably not justified beliefs about objective moral values, as our ordinary practices of moral thought and discourse seem to assume. So in order to protect the epistemic status of these intuitions, some have felt it necessary to deny that our moral intuitions are grounded in emotion. But such denials are getting harder and harder to take seriously, for there is now a large, and growing, body of research in empirical moral psychology that strongly suggests that people's ordinary moral intuitions are the products of a process in which emotion figures centrally. So if we grant that this research is on point, what then can be said of the epistemic status of our moral intuitions? Skeptics insist that the empirical research forces us into the uncomfortable position of having to admit that our ordinary moral intuitions are really not what they seem--i.e., they are either not beliefs about objective moral values, or, if they are, they are not justified. In this dissertation, I resist this skepticism by constructing an account of how our moral intuitions might be trustworthy because they are grounded in emotion, and not despite this fact. The project begins with an inquiry into the nature of emotion. On the view that I defend, emotions are complex states of mind, consisting of construals, concerns, and feelings, related to each other in a particular way. Then, after re-examining the empirical work in light of my account of emotion, I use the account--along with an account of how emotion relates to moral virtue--to develop a theory of moral perception. According to the theory, virtue shapes emotions in such a way as to make them perceptions of moral value. If my argument is on point, it turns out that what is commonly assumed about the relation between emotion and the epistemic security of our moral intuitions is false--rather than threatening the epistemic security of ordinary moral intuitions, these intuitions are (or can be) epistemically secure because they are grounded in emotion.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Adams, Robert
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2013

This work has no parents.