UTCP Education Program "Brain Sciences and Ethics" Seminar 3, Session 3

3 September, 2008 └Seminar 3: Reading Prinz's The Emotional Construction of Morals, SATO Ryoji, Brain Sciences and Ethics

New report on our activities: In Session 3 of the 3rd Seminar: "Reading Prinz's The Emotional Construction of Morals", we discussed the chapter 2: "Emotions: Non-moral and Moral".

Reported by Ryoji SATO (Fellow, UTCP)

  We read chapter 2 “Emotions” in the 3rd session. First, I will summarize the content of the chapter. Then, I will present the topics we discussed.

  In chapter 1, Prinz proposed the emotionist theory of morality. But he did not discuss emotions themselves. Thus, he gives a general theory of emotions in the first section of the chapter 2 (2.1). In the next section, he examines moral emotions (2.2).

  At the beginning, we have to recognize a sharp divide in the dispute of emotions: cognitive versus non-cognitive theories. Cognitive theories are the theories that emotions, at least partly, contain cognitive elements essentially. On the other hand, non-cognitive theories are the theories that mere feelings are enough for emotions.

  Prinz endorses one form of non-cognitive theories. In general, he agrees with William James and Carl Lange who claim that an emotion is one and the same as a feeling of a bodily change. But Prinz also shows an emotion is a kind of representation whose content is a subject’s concern. Following Fred Dretske’s general account of representation, Prinz says, “a mental representation, M, represents that which it has the function of reliably detecting” (p. 61). Since an emotional system has evolved to detect certain properties through natural selection, we can say emotional states represent these properties. What properties the system detects is an empirical matter which can be investigated by science, but Prinz suggests some plausible answers. For example, sadness represents a subject’s loss, fear represents his/her danger, and so on. Prinz calls organism/environment relations like these “concerns”. Thus, an emotion can be both a feeling and a representation.

  Subsequently, Prinz examines moral emotions. He regards moral emotions as derived emotions from basic emotions. Basic emotions are emotions which we have innately. New emotions can derive from basic emotions in two ways: blend and recalibration. Two or more emotions can be mixed up to make a new emotion: this is “blend”. Or, a basic emotion can get new eliciting conditions through experiences. Prinz calls this “recalibration”. An example of the first is contempt. It “may be a blend of anger and disgust”. An example of the second is pride. It “may be joy recalibrated to one’s own successes” (p. 67). Prinz contends moral emotions are emotions derived from basic emotions in a morally relevant context. For example, he says indignation is derived from anger. It is recalibrated to a morally relevant context: injustice.

  At the end of chapter, Prinz compares emotions with sentiments. He uses the term “sentiment” to refer to an emotional disposition. He takes up “liking” as an example. Liking is a disposition to some emotions such as happiness or sadness, but it is not tied to any single emotion. Hence it does not represent a single concern. Rather, liking represents likeability. If you are in a relevant situation, you can find a trait likeable. Thus, likeability is a secondary quality which is defined in terms of a subject’s disposition. All the sentiments are like this. Prinz says, “sentiments may represent secondary qualities even if their component emotions do not” (p. 85). In the next chapter, he will argue that moral sentiments are “the backbone of morality” (p. 86), distinguishing between emotions and sentiments.
Hereafter, I present the topics discussed. First, we suspected that Prinz made a mistake in his argument against cognitive theories of emotion. On page 55, Prinz examines the argument that “moral emotions contain non-moral judgments”:

For example, guilt might contain the judgment that I harmed someone, rather than the judgment that I have done something morally wrong. There is nothing circular about supposing that moral judgments contain the judgment that I have harmed someone. But this proposal faces another difficulty. It falls prey to a version of Moore’s open question argument. Someone can coherently wonder whether it's wrong to cause harm. If the concept wrong contains guilt, and guilt contains the judgments that I have harmed someone, then “harming is wrong” amounts to the tautology that harming is harming. Therefore, on this approach, no one could wonder whether harming is wrong.

It seems that Prinz makes an inference as follows:
harming is wrong → harming is guilt → harming is harming

  True, the conclusion ”harming is harming” is a tautology, but according to formal logic, you can infer any tautology from a proposition. Furthermore, you cannot conversely infer “harming is wrong” from “harming is harming”. They are not logically equivalent. Thus, the proposition “harming is wrong” is not a tautology.

  Second, Prof. Nobuhara pointed out Prinz’s usages of the term “concern” were ambiguous. On pages 83-84, Prinz says, “I think concern is a species of fear”. But on page 85, he claims that “[e]motions, I argued, represent concerns. Concerns are organism-environment relations that bear on well-being”. Also on the same page, Prinz writes that “those concerns can be defined in non-emotional terms”. In the first usage, concern appears as a kind of emotion. But in the second and the third usages, concern is non-emotional. Thus, “concern” has two different meanings in this chapter. Prinz does not say the difference clearly. Both meanings play important roles in this book, however. Prinz’s assertion could have been easier to understand if he has made the difference explicitly.

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Presented by Taichi ISOBE (The University of Tokyo)
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