Moral Emotions and Moral Reasoning

Morality, it appears to me, springs fundamentally from emotions - moral emotions, such as compassion, sympathy, empathy etc - and not from reason, although reason definitely plays an vital role in its development. Much of philosophical discussion of morality, on the other hand, seems to be centered on the rational agent. We ponder and ponder over how a rational agent ought to behave in so and so circumstances, but is a rational agent equivalent to a moral agent? I suspect the hope of reducing morality down to reason is doomed to fail. What is left of morality if you take compassion and empathy out of it? Individuals in a population of rational agents driven only by individual self-interest may act in ways that appear to be moral, but I am inclined to think that such behavior only mimics morality.

At the same time, there is little doubt in my mind that much of moral development of humanity has been the result of increase in rational thought rather than, or at least in combination with, an increase in moral emotions. Reason allows us to recognize and resolve the inconsistencies in our emotions and resulting behavior. It is reason that breaks through the limitations that we have placed on our moral emotions by excluding certain groups from it, such as individuals of other gender, race, sexuality and even species. 


Ahish said…
Hume had it spot on when he wrote: Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.
Skyline Spirit said…
pretty nice blog, following :)
Arkar Kyaw said…
"What is left of morality if you take out compassion and empathy out of it?"

I think what causes morality and what constitutes morality are fundamentally different. The first line you wrote is 'morality springs from emotions' not morality is made out of emotions.

But really, it is only emotions that caused morality to come into existence? How about morality as a political device? Humans, as political animals, might have seen the need for something to maintain the political system and found morality.

Or, it might even be the case that emotions like empathy and sympathy are evolutionary needs for maintaining the political system.

Thus, your argument would look like politics>emotions>reason>morality.