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Monday, February 20, 2017

Getting Emotions Right in Moral Psychology

Piercarlo Valdesolo


The past two decades of research has repeatedly identified the importance of emotion to moral
judgment, but moral psychology continues to be in need of more nuanced and developed theories
of emotion to inform its process models. Closer attention to how modern affective science has
divided the landscape of emotions can not only help more accurately map the moral domain, but
also help solve current theoretical debates.


Basic Emotions and Moral Foundations

MFT argues for the existence of moral foundations comprised of innate cognitive
mechanisms that are responsive to a set of particular adaptive concerns relevant to social living
(e.g. protecting children, forming coalitions). These mechanisms are triggered by particular social
cues (e.g. distress, cheating, uncleanliness), and in turn trigger psychological responses, including
characteristic emotional states, geared towards motivating adaptive behavioral responses. In
keeping with BET, these characteristic emotions represent distinct biological mechanisms thought
to “prompt us in a direction that, in the course of our evolution, has done better than other
solutions in recurring circumstances” (Ekman & Cordaro, 2011, p.364).

Critics of whole number approaches to morality, however, have argued that it is precisely
this conceptual reliance on BET that is problematic (Cameron et al 2013; Schein & Gray; Gray &
Keeney 2015a; Gray, Young and Waytz 2012; Cheng?). These researchers argue that in adopting
this theory of emotions, any theory of distinct moral domains rests on an empirically untenable
basis. Specifically, given that there is no good evidence showing that discrete emotions reflect
“affect programs”, or any other kind of consistent and coordinated affective response specific to
particular kinds of adaptive challenges, then there will likely be no solid empirical basis to accept
the existence of consistent and coordinated psychological responses to discrete moral concerns.

The paper is here.