Group 6: Moral Psychology, Emotions and Perception
Thursday 10th of December 2020
Dong An, Texas A&M University
‘Anxiety, Value, and Relational Agency’
Anxiety as an emotion has uncertainty as its intentional object. It functions to signal the uncertainty and motivate people to seek relevant information. Thus, it can have epistemic value (Nagel, 2010; Vazard, 2019). Moral anxiety is the kind that specifically addresses moral uncertainty. It is the emotion we feel when we face moral dilemmas, such as whether I should break my promise to send my mother to the nursing home which is better for her health. It is argued that moral anxiety is valuable because it can contribute to moral decision making (Kurth, 2015). I argue that these two types of value of anxiety are premature. Furthermore, I propose that anxiety can be valuable in the sense of manifesting our sensitivity to uncertainty and thus revealing our limitation as human beings.
It is psychologically well established that anxiety can motivate people to seek further information. However, there are two points to note. First, it is important to distinguish two kinds of information anxiety motivates us to seek. One is the factual information related to problem solving. The other is the information related to anxiety coping. Anxiety can be epistemically valuable just in the first case.
Second, empirical research has shown that even though it is true that anxiety motivates information seeking, anxious people do poorly in information retention, for example, in memorizing the material (Terry & Burns, 2001; Turner et al, 2006). This shows that even if the information seeking behavior is present, it may be ineffective.
Even if we grant that anxiety can sometimes function to promote the epistemic end, its value in moral decision making is less obvious. As noted, moral anxiety is elicited when we face moral dilemmas. Moral dilemmas are by nature difficult situations that lack a correct answer. Should I send my mother to the nursing home, which is better for her health but breaks my promise and is against her will, or should I keep my promise and choose what is not optimal for her? It is hard to say which decision is correct. Thus, even if anxiety pushed us to deliberate, because the seeking is doomed to fail, the deliberation is fruitless in terms of decision making.
Still, anxiety can be valuable if we shift our attention from problem solving to sensitivity and awareness revealing. Sensitivity and awareness are valuable not just because they are the first step to solve the problem – to solely focus on that is to aim at eliminating uncertainty in human life, which is arguably both impossible and undesirable – but also because it reveals one important aspect of human life, i.e., we are sometimes incapable and vulnerable. This opens up a new way to understand human agency, which is what feminist theorists call relational agency (Christman, 2004; Mackenzie, 2008). By realizing our limitation, we have a better understanding of ourselves and see the potential of acting in an interconnected way. This argument complements the point that moral anxiety is constitutive of virtuous agency, which models on the individualist, atomistic notion of agency (Kurth, 2018).
Uphaar Dooling, University of Arizona
‘Moral Judgment and Decision-Making in the Predictive Brain: Implications of Predictive Processing for the Rationalism and Social Intuitionism Debate in Moral Psychology’
The fields of moral psychology and philosophy struggle to provide a satisfactory account of moral judgment and decision-making that reconciles the role of reason, relevant background knowledge, emotion, and social expectations in the formation of moral judgments while maintaining consistency with modern cognitive and neuroscientific research. This failure is a consequence of confining explanations to the historically influential, though outdated, dichotomy between Rationalism and Social Intuitionism. In this article, I provide an alternative account that situates moral judgment and decision-making within the promising cognitive and computational neuroscientific paradigm of Predictive Processing. This account, that I call a Predictive Processing Model of Moral Judgment Formation (PPMJ), suggests that moral judgment formation results from a dynamic inferential process, integrating background knowledge acquired through past experience as well as multimodal sensory information to guide our actions, reduce uncertainty in our social environment, and drive learning through the minimization of prediction error flow during social and moral experience. PPMJ represents a superior alternative by explaining the following three challenges that allude the traditional dichotomy: (1) it can account for the phenomenological diversity of our everyday moral experience, (2) it is compatible with a satisfactory moral epistemology, and (3) it can account for both conscious and nonconscious reasoned moral judgments.
Lilith Newton, University of Edinburgh
‘The Aretaic Value of Irrational, Useless Doubts’
In this paper, I defend a conception of doubts as epistemic anxieties, and discuss three ways of evaluating doubts, so conceived. Anxiety is standardly understood in psychology and the philosophy of emotions as an emotional response to risk. Epistemic anxiety, then, can be thought of as an emotional response to epistemic risk: to the risk of forming false beliefs (Pritchard 2015, 2016).
There is precedent for thinking of doubt as, or alongside, epistemic anxiety. Charles Sanders Peirce wrote that ‘[d]oubt is an uneasy and dissatisfied state from which we struggle to free ourselves and enter into the state of belief’ (1986: 38). The unpleasant affective aspect of doubt and its motivational power to induce epistemic risk-minimisation behaviours, such as information-gathering and careful deliberation, on Peirce’s view, make it functionally similar to more familiar anxieties. More recently, Jennifer Nagel has developed an account of epistemic anxiety as a ‘force’ that ‘determines how much evidence we are inclined to collect and how thoroughly we will weight it’ (2010: 408); and Juliette Vazard (2018) has posited a causal relationship between the emotion of epistemic anxiety and the propositional attitude of doubt.
I argue that following Peirce in identifying doubt with epistemic anxiety has advantages over views on which the two are related, but unidentical. First, this identity claim makes sense from the perspective of epistemologies on which knowledge is incompatible with close possibilities of error, which are widely endorsed amongst contemporary epistemologists (e.g. Lewis 1996; Anderson 2014; Pritchard 2015, 2016; Dutant 2016). Second, this allows us to evaluate doubts in the same ways that we evaluate more familiar anxieties, which, in turn, can shed light on epistemological debates on the (dis)value of sceptical doubts.
Drawing from work in psychology and the philosophy of emotions, I argue that anxieties are evaluable in terms of rationality and usefulness. Anxiety is rational insofar as it is proportionate to risk; thus I will outline some prominent accounts of risk, including epistemic risk, to explicate the rationality of anxiety. Anxiety is useful insofar as it alerts one to a risk one can take steps to minimise, or motivates one to take these steps.
Sceptical doubts do badly on both counts. My doubting that I have hands because I might be deceived by a demon is disproportionate to the risk of this obtaining, at least given the most influential account of risk within contemporary epistemology: Duncan Pritchard’s modal account (2015). This doubt is also useless: there is nothing I can do to minimise the risk of being so deceived. However I argue that sceptical doubts may nevertheless have aretaic value: they may reflect well on the intellectual character of the sceptic. To this end, I consider Charlie Kurth’s (2018) argument that moral anxiety, even when irrational and useless, is valuable insofar as it is the emotional manifestation of the virtue of moral concern. I argue similarly that sceptical doubts may be the emotional manifestations of such intellectual virtues as thoroughness or cautiousness (Zagzebski 1996), and as such are still worthwhile doubts to have, even if irrational and useless.