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Monday, December 28, 2015

The role of emotion in ethics and bioethics: dealing with repugnance and disgust

Mark Sheehan
J Med Ethics 2016;42:1-2

Here is an excerpt:

But what generally are we to say about the role of emotions in ethics and in ethical judgement? We tend to sharply distinguish ‘mere’ emotions or emotional responses from reasoned or rational argument. Clearly, it would seem, if we are to make claims about rightness or wrongness they should be on the basis of reasons and rational argument. Emotions look to be outside of this paradigm concerned as they are with our responses to the world rather than the world itself and the clear articulation of inferential relationships within it. Most importantly emotions are felt subjectively and so cannot lay any generalised claim on others (particularly others who do not feel as the arguer does). The subjectivity of emotions means that they cannot function in arguments because, unless they are universal, they cannot form the basis of a claim on another person. The reason they cannot form this basis is because that other person may not have that emotion: relying on it means the argument can only apply to those who do. An argument that relies on feeling particular emotions, particularly emotions that we don't all feel in the same way, is weak to that extent and certainly weaker than one that does not.

In the case at hand, repugnance or disgust only have persuasive power to those who feel these emotions in response to human reproductive cloning. If all people felt one or the other, then claims based on an appeal to repugnance or disgust would have persuasive power over all of us. But even if these were generally or commonly felt emotions here, such persuasive power would be distinct from an argument's having persuasive power over us because of the reasons it provides for us independently of contingently felt emotions. An argument then that is based on an appeal to emotion apparently as Kass' and Kekes' apparently are, can, at best, be only as strong as the generalisability of the empirical claim about the relevant emotion.

The article is here.