A Brief Review of Jesse Prinz’s ‘The Emotional Construction Of Morals’

Full review here.

“According to Prinz, moral emotions are those triggered by the detection of a conduct that violates or conforms to a moral rule. Prinz distinguishes between reactive moral emotions (namely, moral anger, disgust and contempt for someone transgressing a norm) and reflexive moral emotions (the varieties of guilt and shame felt when you are the transgressor).”


He claims that it is possible for the emotionist to be a (internal) realist about moral properties: “They are made by our sentiments, and, once made, they can be perceived”.

We can have moral progess, we just can’t derive that progress from any universal law, (or as the utilitarians would have it, perhaps just a sufficiently abstract moral law). 

But aren’t these theories about the emotions, theories that rely ultimately on epistemologies and disciplines (let’s choose chemistry) which are much more humble about the claims they make? (Chemists don’t claim knowledge of universal moral laws in their work, just universal physical laws that must correspond to experiment and observation, and better laws should they come along).      

I think Prinz may eventually succeed in his own statement and steer the disciplines he’s interested in back toward Hume:

I work primarily in the philosophy of psychology, broadly construed. I am interested in how the mind works. I think philosophical accounts of the mental can be fruitfully informed by findings from psychology, the neurosciences, anthropology, and related fields. My theoretical convictions are unabashedly empiricist. I hope to resuscitate core claims of British Empiricism against the backdrop of contemporary philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

See Also: Bloggingheads Discussion Of Moral RealismMore On Jesse Prinz. A Review Of “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” At Notre DameJesse Prinz Discusses “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” On Bloggingheads.From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

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