International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 14, Issue 1, Spring 2000

Kristján Kristjánsson
Pages 43-58

Utilitarian Naturalism and the Moral Justification of Emotions

The virtue ethicist Rosalind Hursthouse has recently admitted that the commonly supposed link between a belief in the moral significance of human emotions and an adherence to virtue ethics may rest on a “historical accident,” and that utilitarians could, for instance, be equally concerned with emotions. The present essay takes up Hursthouse’s challenge and explores both what utilitarians have said and what they should say about the moral justification of emotions. Mill’s classical utilitarianism is rehearsed and applied to the emotions, some relevant objections to utilitarianism are rebutted, and a link is suggested to Aristotle’s conception of happiness. Finally, the essay discusses the scope of utilitarianism as a naturalistic strategy, and explains how naturalistic moral reasoning on the emotions must, in practice, be answerable to empirical research and, hence, interdisciplinary.