Is emotivism more authentic than cognitivism?

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The “affective revolution” in moral psychology has led to theories of moral judgment that are much more psychologically realistic than strictly rationalist models. But this recent emphasis on the role of emotion in moral appraisal has, in some influential current theories, been joined – unnecessarily – to a fundamentally emotivist understanding of both emotions and moral judgments. These “neo-Humean” theories argue or suggest that scientific research undermines the cognitivity and objectivity of moral judgments. To the extent that understandings of moral experience appeal to reason, rationality or deliberation, they are depicted as error, false consciousness or confabulation. To illustrate some of the conceptual and methodological difficulties with this position, I discuss aspects of two representative theories: Nichols’ “Sentimental Rules Account” of moral judgment and Haidt’s “Social Intuitionist Model.” I conclude by arguing that moral psychology would be better served by abandoning emotivist assumptions and pursuing research programs that permit the observation of the interplay of emotion and cognition.


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