Moral Emotions

moralemo.pngAristotle considered that a good moral education consists in learning to feel the “right emotion to the right degree at the right time”. Following in his footsteps, many philosophers and psychologist have emphasized the intimate links between moral evaluations and some emotions – the moral emotions (e.g. anger, contempt or disgust for the negative emotions, elevation and gratitude for the positive emotions).

The precise nature of this link, however, is still the object of heavy debates. Some consider that emotions are reactions to prior moral evaluations (I am angry at Bill because I judge his action to be unjust) and that, as a result, their only role is motivational, Others consider that moral emotions actually serve as inputs to moral evaluations (I judge Bill’s action to be unjust because I’m angry at him), and thus that moral emotions are at the root of our moral competence and perhaps even of our knowledge of moral values. This issue is at the heart of both philosophical and psychological disputes.

This research focus, lead by Julien Deonna and David Sander, aims at coordinating various activities within the NCCR concerning Moral Emotions. Among the planned activities are:

  • The editing of a Special Issue of a journal on moral emotions
  • The organization of an international conference and the publication of a volume on the  emotion of contempt
  • The encouragement of various NCCR projects to conduct interdisciplinary research on moral emotions, and specifically to conduct empirical research joining philosophical, psychological and neuroscientific approaches.

Three sub-projects are already planned:

  • A first one aims at studying and comparing the impact of emotion inducement on different classes of moral evaluations, in order to study the links between certain emotions and certain forms of evaluations
  • A second sub-project investigates the emotion of “being moved” and its effects on prosocial behavior
  • Finally, a third project investigates the emotion of contempt and aim at synthesizing both philosophical and psychological understanding of this emotion


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