Date of Award
Master of Arts in Philosophy
Historically emotions have been excluded from the moral sphere. However, in this century there have been at least two theories which do recognize a relationship between ethics and the emotions, namely, A. J. Ayer's emotivism and Dietrich von Hildebrand's theory of affective morality.
Emotivism is a theory which claims that when one makes an ethical judgment, such as "murder is wrong," one is not saying anything about murder but merely evincing the emotions one has with respect to murder. It is as if one said "murder" in a particularly harsh tone of voice and nothing more.
In contrast, von Hildebrand's theory claims that not only is murder truly wrong but when one hears of a murder one should respond with the appropriate emotional response, such as sorrow or righteous anger.
Because of its adoption of the empirical verifiability criterion, Ayer's theory holds that all value statements are cognitively meaningless and all value judgments, including those of morality, are nothing but expressions of emotions. This theory removes ethics from meaningful philosophical discourse and deems it to be a subject only for the social sciences. This theory can be found faulty on many accounts. Not only can it be shown that by the existence of purely ethical arguments Ayer's theory is refuted but also it can be shown that this theory is self-annihilating.
On the other hand, von Hildebrand's theory offers a clear analysis of the affective sphere and its moral pertinence. Von Hildebrand's explanation of the "heart" as denoting the affective sphere elucidates the distinction between the affective response and the other entities with which it may easily be confused. Due to its intentional nature, the affective response may be morally correct or morally incorrect. It is the morally conscious person who uses his cooperative freedom to sanction an appropriate affective response and/or to disavow an inappropriate affective response.
Thus it is shown that emotions do fall within the realm of ethics and a meaningful relationship can be established between ethics and emotions.
Carter, Elizabeth A., "Ethics and Emotions: A Comparison of Two Ethical Theories (A Critique of A.J. Ayer’s Emotivism in Light of Dietrich von Hildenbrand’s Theory of Affective Responses)" (1994). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 1757.