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morality & emotion

PHIL 430-Current Topics in Ethical Theory: Morality & Emotion (fall 2013)

Charlie Kurth                                                       Class: Thursdays, 1:00-4:00pm

  Email: ckurth [at] wustl [dot] edu                       Office Hours: Tuesdays 4:30-6:00pm, and by app't

  Office phone: 314-935-4753                             Office Location: Wilson 112

Course Overview

Emotions are central to morality—that much is uncontroversial. But there is less of a consensus on how the relationship between emotion and morality should be understood. Moreover, questions about how emotions shape moral thought and action are increasingly seen as questions that require philosophers to engage with empirical work on the nature of emotion. This makes morality and emotions a particularly rich and interesting area of philosophical research. 

In this seminar, we embark on an in-depth investigation of the nature of emotion and its role in morality. To really understand the role that emotion plays in moral thought and action, we need to get an understanding of what emotions are. So that will be our starting place. From there, we will investigate the role that emotions play in shaping moral concepts, moral beliefs, and moral decision making. To do this, we will look at work in philosophy (especially, ethical theory and the philosophy of emotion) as well as recent research in psychology and cognitive science.


Jessie Prinz, Gut Reactions (available from the Campus Bookstore)

Julian Deonna & Fabrice Teroni, Emotions: A Philosophical Introduction (web access via Olin)

Selected readings available on the course web site


This course will have three graded components:

  • Class Participation (10%).
    This course is structured as a seminar. So you will be expected to come to class prepared to discuss the assigned readings. 

  • Reading Responses (25%).
    Throughout the course, you will write five brief critical response essays. Y
    ou are free to choose which readings you write about and can use reading questions as guide for your papers. These essays should be approximately two pages long, and should raise a question or objection to some part of the assigned reading. For example, your essay could start by briefly summarizing a particular claim (or argument) from the assigned reading; you could then raise an objection to this claim. Alternatively, you could identify an argument that you do not understand and explain why it has you puzzled. Not only will these response essays help prepare you for class discussion, but they should also help you start thinking about possible topics for the long paper. The essays are to be emailed to me by noon on the Wednesday before the relevant Thursday class meeting. The readings for Aug 29 and Sept 5 are not eligible for reading responses.
  • Long Paper (65%).
    The longer paper assignment invites you to explore some of the topics that we will discuss in the course. You paper
    should be approximately 15 pages long. You will need to write a brief paper proposal (details to come) and submit it to me by Monday, November 25. You will then turn in a draft of your paper on Sunday, December 8. I will provide you with feedback by Wednesday, December 11. The final version of the paper will be due at 3:30pm on Wednesday, December 18. I will provide you with possible paper topics in November. If you would like to explore a different topic, you will need to talk with me before hand. While your draft needn't be a highly polished piece, the more developed it is, the better the comments I will be able to give you. Turning in a cursory draft may result in a grade penalty. 


In order to help ensure a successful class, please heed the following rules and policies:

  • Due Dates. Baring unusual circumstances, the due dates  on the syllabus are non-negotiable. If you think you have reason to miss an assignment, it is best to inform me well in advance.
  • Classroom Environment. Please arrive to class on time. All cell phones must be turned off during class. Texting is not permitted. Most importantly, treat your classmates with respect. Abuse of these courtesies may lead to penalties.
  • Statement of Academic Integrity. Upon arrival at Washington University, you signed a statement indicating that you understand that you will abide by the University's Academic Integrity Policy (available here). In this class, you will be expected to honor that commitment. This means that all work presented as original must, in fact, be original; the ideas and contributions of others (be they quotes, summaries, or paraphrases) must be appropriately acknowledged. You are responsible for (re)familiarizing yourself with these policies. If you have any questions, feel free to talk to me.

Tentative Schedule of Readings and Assignments

Course Introduction & Overview

Aug. 29:

  • Deonna & Teroni, Emotions: A Philosophical Introduction, Chap. 1
  • Prinz, Gut Reactions, Chap. 1 [link to Google Books version]

Perspectives from Psychology

Sept. 5

  • Ekman, "An Argument for Basic Emotions"
  • Averill, "A Constructivist View of Emotions"
  • Russell, "Core Affect and the Psychological Construction of Emotion" [pp. 145-52 only]

Cognitivist Theories of Emotion

Sept. 12

  • Solomon excerpt from "Emotions and Choice"
  • Nussbaum excerpt from Upheavals of Thought
  • Roberts, "What an Emotion Is"
  • Deonna & Teroni, Emotions, Chap 5 [recommended]

Sept. 19

  • D'Arms & Jacobson, "The Significance of Recalcitrant Emotions"
  • Roberts, "Emotions and the Cannons of Evaluation" 
  • Prinz, Gut Reactions, Chap. 2 [recommended]

Non-Cognitivist (neo-Jamesian) Theories of Emotion

Sept. 26

  • Prinz, Gut Reactions, Chaps. 3 & 6.

Oct. 3

  • Barlassina & Newen, "The Role of Bodily Perception in Emotion"
  • Griffiths, "Toward a Machiavellian Theory of Emotional Appraisal"
  • D'Arms, "Prniz's Theory of Emotion" [recommended]
  • Griffiths & Scarantino, "Don't Give Up on Basic Emotions" [recommended]

Emotion as Perception

Oct. 10

  • Elgin, "Emotion and Understanding"
  • Prinz, Gut Reactions, Chap. 10
  • Doring, "Seeing What to Do: Affective Perception and Rational Motivation" [recommended]

Oct. 17

  • Brady, "Emotions, Perceptions, and Reasons"
  • Deonna & Teroni, Emotions, Chaps. 6-7
  • Whiting, "Are Emotions Perceptual Experiences of Value?" [recommended]

Emotions and Moral Concepts

Oct. 24

  • Gibbard, Wise Choices, Apt Feelings, excerpts
  • Wiggins, "A Sensible Subjectivism?"

Oct. 31

  • D'Arms & Jacobson, "Sentiment & Value"
  • D'Arms & Jacobson, "Anthropocentric Constraints on Human Value"

Emotions and Practical/Moral Reasoning

Nov. 7

  • Haidt &Bjorklund, "The Social Intuitionist Answers Six Questions"
  • Sripada & Stich, "Evolution, Culture, and the Irrationality of the Emotions"
  • Goldie, "Emotion, Reason, and Virtue" [recommended]
  • Doris, "Skepticism about Persons" [recommended]
  • Haidt, "The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail" [recommended]

Nov. 14

  • Railton, "Practical Competence & Fluid Agency"
  • Jacobson, "Moral Dumbfounding & Moral Stupefication"

Nov. 21

  • Kurth, "Fear, Anxiety, and Social Regulation"
  • Kurth, "Moral Anxiety and Moral Agency"

Nov. 28

  • No Class -- Thanksgiving

Dec. 5

  • Prinz, "Against Empathy"
  • Kauppinen, "Empathy, Emotion Regulation, and Moral Judgment"