Moral Sentimentalism

Research output: Book/ReportBook

139 Scopus citations


There has been a great deal of interest in moral sentimentalism in recent years, but most of that interest has been exclusively either in metaethical questions about the meaning of moral terms or in normative issues about benevolence, caring, and compassion and their place in the moral life. This book seeks to deal with both sorts of issues and to do so primarily in terms of the notion of empathy. Hume tried to do something like this more than two centuries ago, though he didn't have the word empathy and used the term sympathy instead. But Hume misconstrued the phenomenology of moral approval and disapproval, and the nascent theories of moral meaning he grounded in approval and disapproval allow for (much) less objectivity than moral judgments seem to possess. The present book uses a semi-Kripkean reference-fixing view of terms like right and wrong to show how moral claims can be objectively valid a priori and yet at the same time action-guiding and motivating - something that Kantian ethics seeks to provide, but sentimentalism turns out to be more capable of giving us. In addition to dealing with semantic issues, this book shows how sentimentalist forms of moral education and moral learning are possible; and in its later chapters, it also focuses on normative issues of public morality: discussing respect, autonomy, justice, and objectivity itself in strictly sentimentalist care-ethical terms and demonstrating that such an approach can be thoroughly feminist in its implications and goals. Rationalism now dominates the scene in moral philosophy, but there are signs of change, and this book works to encourage those possibilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages224
ISBN (Electronic)9780199866250
ISBN (Print)9780195391442
StatePublished - Feb 1 2010


  • Approval
  • Autonomy
  • Empathy
  • Feminism
  • Hume
  • Judgments
  • Justice
  • Kant
  • Kripke
  • Metaethics
  • Morality
  • Motivating
  • Objectivity
  • Obligation
  • Phenomenology
  • Respect
  • Sentimentalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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