169 days until classes start
In my Phil 5100 course, the current reading assignment was Jesse Prinz, "The Emotional Basis of Moral Judgments." In this article, Prinz argues for agent-centered moral sentimentalism.
To believe that something is morally wrong (right) is to have a sentiment of disapprobation (approbation) towards it.
However, one of the arguments he uses does not actually support this thesis. It actually does a better job of supporting a rival thesis:
To believe that something is morally wrong (right) is to believe that one should have a sentiment of disapprobation (approbation) towards it.
The argument in question is:
Unlike language, children need a lot of training to conform to moral rules, and parents spend a lot of time giving their children moral instruction. Interestingly, the three main techniques that parents use to convey moral rules all recruit emotions (Hoffman 1983). One technique is power assertion (physical punishment or threat of punishment), which elicits fear. Another technique is called induction, which elicits distress by orienting a child to some harm she has caused in another person (‘Look, you made your little brother cry!’). The third technique is love withdrawal, which elicits sadness through social ostracism (‘If you behave like that, I’m not going to play with you!’). Each technique conditions the child to experience negative emotions in conjunction with misdeeds. This does not prove that emotions are necessary for moral development, but it is suggestive.
None of these techniques teaches the child to look to her own sentiments to determine what is morally right or wrong. That is, they do not teach her that she uses moral terms correctly by looking at her own feelings of disapprobation or approbation.
Instead, they teach her that, to discover the difference between right and wrong, she needs to look for something that is independent of and external to her own sentiments. In one case mentioned in the quote, she needs to look at the fact that her actions made her little brother cry. The mother does not say, "You made your little brother cry, and you have a sentiment of disapproval towards making your little brother cry, and that makes it wrong." The message is, "You made your little brother cry, that makes the action wrong, and you SHOULD HAVE a sentiment of disapproval towards making your little brother cry."
This message is also conveyed in the admonishment, "You should feel ashamed of yourself." The claim is not, "You do feel ashamed of yourself" or - more to the point - "because you feel ashamed of yourself the action was wrong - and that you should not call it wrong unless you have this feeling of disapprobation."
Indeed, why should it be the case that "children need a lot of training to conform to moral rules" if it is the case that "to believe that something is morally wrong (right) is to have a sentiment of disapprobation (approbation) towards it." Children do not need a lot of moral training to have feelings of disapprobation (approbation). They need a lot of moral training to have THE CORRECT feelings of disapprobation (approbation).
Moral training presumes that there is a range of possible sentiments that a child can have - that a child can develop. The job of moral training is to try to direct the set of sentiments that the child acquires towards a set that the child should have.
The techniques that Prinz mentions suggests that we can mold the child's sentiments using reward and punishment, evoking empathy, and ostracism (which is actually a form of punishment) - suggest that we should look to rewards, punishments, and evoking empathy as the proper tools for molding a child's sentiments (shaping a child's character). If what the child suffered from was a defect in belief, we could correct the child's beliefs through more traditional forms of education. However, if what the child suffers is a defect in sentiment, then the relevant forms of instruction would be those expected to have a greater impact on shaping desires, rather than beliefs.
All of this is consistent with Prinz' claim that emotions are necessary for moral development. In order to mold a child's sentiments, the child must have sentiments that can be molded. An inability to alter the child's sentiments would make moral instruction pointless. However, it is not the type of necessity that grounds moral judgments on the sentiments the child or later adult actually has. It is a type of necessity that grounds moral judgments on the sentiments that the child and later adult can have and, of these, a way of determining that some possible sentiments are to be preferred over others.
The next question is: if morality is concerned with having the correct feelings of disapprobation (approbation), how is it that we determine correctness? How do we determine the sentiments a child and later adult SHOULD HAVE, so that we know towards what ends to direct this moral education? This is a future question.