Michael B. Gill, “Moral Rationalism Vs. Moral Sentimentalism: Is Morality More Like Math or Beauty?”

Here is the abstract for Michael B. Gill’s article.

One of the most significant disputes in early modern philosophy was between the moral rationalists and the moral sentimentalists. The moral rationalists – such as Ralph Cudworth, Samuel Clarke, and John Balguy – held that morality originated in reason alone. The moral sentimentalists – such as Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson, and David Hume – held that morality originated at least partly in sentiment. In addition to other arguments, the rationalists and sentimentalists developed rich analogies. The most significant analogy the rationalists developed was between morality and mathematics. The most significant analogy the sentimentalists developed was between morality and beauty. These two analogies illustrate well the main ideas, underlying insights, and accounts of moral phenomenology the two positions have to offer. An examination of the two analogies will thus serve as a useful introduction to the debate between moral rationalism and moral sentimentalism as a whole.

The full article is available here.

There is also a Teaching and Learning Guide. The guide concludes with the following focus questions.

  1. What are the main differences between drawing a mathematical conclusion and judging that something is beautiful? Is making a moral judgment more like the former or the latter?
  2. When a person judges that an action is right, will he or she necessarily also possess a motive to perform that action?
  3. Is morality necessarily the same for all people everywhere?
  4. How do we justify our moral judgments to others? Is it more similar to how we justify out mathematical conclusions, or is it more similar to how we justify our aesthetic judgments?
  5. Can two people who agree about all the facts about an action nonetheless disagree about its moral status?

This is an open thread on Prof Gill’s article and TLG.

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