Forms of Fellow Feeling Empathy, Sympathy, Concern and Virtue
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Many contemporary philosophers are convinced that there is some close connection between morality and the emotions. What since Peter Strawson have been called the “reactive attitudes” – the negative emotions guilt, resentment, indignation and positive variants such as pride and gratitude – seem intimately related to the answerability to moral norms. And moral realists have taken emotions to provide a form of direct access to values that has a comparable epistemic function to the perception of physical objects or properties. This conference focuses on a third way in which emotions may be central to our ethical life, a way which may make emotional processes not only necessary features of the capacity for normative action control or of access to the ethically valuable, but constitutive of moral agency itself. The basic idea, which goes back to Hume and Adam Smith, is that ethical norms are the results of intersubjective emotional processes and that virtue is at core a matter of being disposed to “feel with” others in certain ways. Whereas intersubjective versions of a Kantian constructivism of – irreducibly conceived – reasons have been developed at length by authors such as Scanlon, Darwall and Habermas, the potential of a comparable Smithian intersubjective constructivism has yet to be explored in detail. That is the aim of this conference. Smith and Hume saw the key to the relevant intersubjective processes in what they called “sympathy”, an emotional process that allows agents to tune into the affective condition of others. They believed that the resulting change of affective focus in turn explains the possibility of intrinsic motivation that transcends self-interest and constitutes the moral standpoint. Such a conception raises two very basic sets of questions. The first set concerns the composition and functioning of the relevant psychological processes, the second the conception of their role as constitutive of moral agency.
Conference Fee: 50 € (reduced price/free entrance for unwaged persons/students)
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