Intellect versus affect: finding leverage in an old debate
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We often claim to know about what is good or bad, right or wrong. But how do we know such things? Both historically and today, answers to this question have most commonly been rationalist or sentimentalist in nature. Rationalists and sentimentalists clash over whether intellect or affect is the foundation of our evaluative knowledge. This paper is about the form that this dispute takes among those who agree that evaluative knowledge depends on perceptual-like evaluative experiences (perceptualism). Rationalist proponents of perceptualism invoke intellectual experiences (intellectual perceptualism), while sentimentalist proponents invoke affective experiences (sentimental perceptualism). The goal of this paper is to offer a fresh strategy for adjudicating between intellectual and sentimental perceptualism. I argue that the perceptualist’s hand will be forced either in the direction of intellectual or sentimental perceptualism once she decides between two views about the modal status of our basic evaluative knowledge. I close with an argument that the more plausible of the two options (given the assumption of perceptualism) is the one which fits best with sentimental perceptualism. The argument, then, is that perceptualists ought to be sentimentalists.
KeywordsRationalism Sentimentalism Moral epistemology Perception
For valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper, I am grateful to Robert Cowan, Stephen Finlay, Nicholas Laskowski, Janet Levin, Alida Liberman, Caleb Perl, Ralph Wedgwood, and an anonymous reviewer. I am especially grateful to Mark Schroeder, who provided a wealth of feedback and encouragement throughout this paper’s development.
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