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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Do Emotions and Morality Mix?

By Lauren Cassani Davis
The Atlantic
Originally published February 5, 2016

Daily life is peppered with moral decisions. Some are so automatic that they fail to register—like holding the door for a mother struggling with a stroller, or resisting a passing urge to elbow the guy who cut you in line at Starbucks. Others chafe a little more, like deciding whether or not to give money to a figure rattling a cup of coins on a darkening evening commute. A desire to help, a fear of danger, and a cost-benefit analysis of the contents of my wallet; these gut reactions and reasoned arguments all swirl beneath conscious awareness.

While society urges people towards morally commendable choices with laws and police, and religious traditions stipulate good and bad through divine commands, scriptures, and sermons, the final say lies within each of our heads. Rational thinking, of course, plays a role in how we make moral decisions. But our moral compasses are also powerfully influenced by the fleeting forces of disgust, fondness, or fear.

Should subjective feelings matter when deciding right and wrong? Philosophers have debated this question for thousands of years. Some say absolutely: Emotions, like our love for our friends and family, are a crucial part of what give life meaning, and ought to play a guiding role in morality. Some say absolutely not: Cold, impartial, rational thinking is the only proper way to make a decision. Emotion versus reason—it’s one of the oldest and most epic standoffs we know.

The article is here.