Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 95–115

Psychopaths and Filthy Desks

Are Emotions Necessary and Sufficient for Moral Judgment?

DOI: 10.1007/s10677-011-9274-y

Cite this article as:
Sauer, H. Ethic Theory Moral Prac (2012) 15: 95. doi:10.1007/s10677-011-9274-y


Philosophical and empirical moral psychologists claim that emotions are both necessary and sufficient for moral judgment. The aim of this paper is to assess the evidence in favor of both claims and to show how a moderate rationalist position about moral judgment can be defended nonetheless. The experimental evidence for both the necessity- and the sufficiency-thesis concerning the connection between emotional reactions and moral judgment is presented. I argue that a rationalist about moral judgment can be happy to accept the necessity-thesis. My argument draws on the idea that emotions play the same role for moral judgment that perceptions play for ordinary judgments about the external world. I develop a rationalist interpretation of the sufficiency-thesis and show that it can successfully account for the available empirical evidence. The general idea is that the rationalist can accept the claim that emotional reactions are sufficient for moral judgment just in case a subject’s emotional reaction towards an action in question causes the judgment in a way that can be reflectively endorsed under conditions of full information and rationality. This idea is spelled out in some detail and it is argued that a moral agent is entitled to her endorsement if the way she arrives at her judgment reliably leads to correct moral beliefs, and that this reliability can be established if the subject’s emotional reaction picks up on the morally relevant aspects of the situation.


Moral judgment Moral emotions Moral psychology Experimental philosophy Jesse Prinz Jonathan Haidt 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituut voor WijsbegeerteUniversiteit LeidenLeidenNetherlands

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