The Status of Moral Emotions in Consequentialist Moral Reasoning

Free Enterprise: Values in Action Conference Series, 2005-2006

MORAL MARKETS: THE CRITICAL ROLE OF VALUES IN THE ECONOMY, Paul J. Zak, ed., Princeton University Press, 2007

29 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2006  

Robert H. Frank

Cornell University - Department of Economics

Abstract

The philosopher Bernard Williams describes an example in which a botanist wanders into a village in the jungle where ten innocent people are about to be shot. He is told that nine of them will be spared if he himself will shoot the tenth. What should the botanist do? Although most people would prefer to see only one innocent person die rather than ten, Williams argues that it would be wrong as a matter of principle for the botanist to shoot the innocent villager. And most people seem to agree.

The force of the example is its appeal to a widely shared moral intuition. Yet some philosophers counter that it is the presumed validity of moral intuitions that such examples call into question. These consequentialists insist that whether an action is morally right depends only on its consequences. The right choice, they argue, is always the one that leads to the best overall consequences.

I will argue that consequentialists make a persuasive case that moral intuitions are best ignored in at least some specific cases. But many consequentialists appear to take the stronger position that moral intuitions should play no role in moral choice. I will argue against that position on the grounds that should appeal to their way of thinking. As I will attempt to explain, ignoring moral intuitions would lead to undesirable consequences. My broader aim is to expand the consequentialist framework to take explicit account of moral sentiments.

Suggested Citation

Frank, Robert H., The Status of Moral Emotions in Consequentialist Moral Reasoning. Free Enterprise: Values in Action Conference Series, 2005-2006; MORAL MARKETS: THE CRITICAL ROLE OF VALUES IN THE ECONOMY, Paul J. Zak, ed., Princeton University Press, 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=929844

Robert Frank (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Department of Economics ( email )

414 Uris Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-7601
United States
607-255-8501 (Phone)
607-254-4590 (Fax)

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