Nick Treanor was here last week for our Young Philosophers Lecture Series. I’ll be posting those talks over at Young Philosophers sometime within the next week.
In his introductory level talk, he presented a view about emotions, according to which emotions could be rational or irrational. That talk was the inspiration for this argument.
Treanor’s talk led me to think that if this view about emotions is correct, we could get an interesting argument for against moral skepticism. Here are some claims that Treanor defended in his talk.
Some Emotions Are Rational
It seems obvious that some emotions are rational to have and other emotions are irrational to have. For example, it is rational to get angry when someone steals money from you. It is not rational to get angry simply because there are an odd number of pebbles in the fish bowl.
Emotions Are Not Feelings
Emotions are not simply feelings. When you are angry you might have a certain feeling, but the anger is something distinct from the feeling. Nick Treanor gives several reasons in his talk.
Here’s one I came up with. Sometimes people think you do something bad and get angry only to discover that you didn’t actually do it, or they become convinced that the thing you did is not bad – either way they might truthfully say that they are not angry with you anymore, but the feeling the comes with anger might remain.
Emotions Involve a Belief
Emotions might be associated with a feeling or always come with a certain feeling, but emotions are about something. For example, when you’re angry – you’re angry about something. Anger for example, involves an awareness of some state of affairs and a judgment that that state of affairs is bad.
Rationality of Emotions Explained By Rationality of Beliefs.
It seems that if emotions are going to be rational, then the best explanation of this will have to be that they are rational in virtue of the rationality of the beliefs included in the emotion. Why is it irrational to get angry that there is an odd number of pebbles in the fishbowl? Because it’s irrational to believe that this is a bad states of affairs. Why is it rational to get angry at someone who steals money from you? Because you’re rational in believing that this is a bad state of affairs.
This explanation of what makes emotions rational in conjunction with the other assumptions is what would get you from the fact that emotions are sometimes rational to the conclusion moral skepticism is false. Here’s the argument, the support for each of the premises comes from the considerations offered above.
Argument From the Rationality of Emotions Against Moral Skepticism
- A rational instance of anger is rational in virtue of the rationality of the judgment (included in the anger) about the badness of some state of affairs.
- Some instances of anger are in fact rational.
- If some instances of anger are rational and a rational instance of anger is rational in virtue of the rationality of the judgment (included in the anger) about the badness of some state of affairs, then some judgements about the badness of some states of affairs are rational.
- Therefore, some judgments about the badness of some states of affairs are rational.
OK. So there’s the argument, and even though Treanor’s talk was not directly about moral skepticism – it seems that a lot of what he motivated in his talk could be used to motivate this argument. I’ll post his talk over at the young philosophers lecture series site soon. I’ve also got some possible objections to this. One obvious objection might be a kind of question begging charge. I’ll address that later. For now I’ll stop and let readers chime in if they want.