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Shaping the Arrow of the Will: Skorupski on Moral Feeling and Rationality

  • Theo Van Willigenburg (a1)


I oppose the way John Skorupski characterizes morality in terms of the blameworthy and the role he consequently assigns to punitive feelings in directing one's will and shaping one's character. Skorupski does not hold that the punishment involved in blame- and guilt-feelings grounds the normativity of moral obligation. He defends a specific view of moral psychology and moral practice in which the blame-feeling disposes to the withdrawal of recognition, which involves some sort of casting the transgressor out of the community resulting in the suffering of repentance which is necessary to make atonement (at-one-ment) possible. I argue that this picture threatens to socialize morality. I defend the Kantian idea that the will is not aligned to obligation through castigation, but through our consciousness of our vocation as takers and givers of reasons. This highlights very different feelings as essential to the typically moral stance, feelings that are not necessarily punitive, like feelings of respect and reverence.



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1 See De Sousa, R., The Rationality of Emotion, Cambridge, Mass., 1990; Wollheim, R., On the Emotions, New Haven, Conn., 1999; Goldie, P., The Emotions. A Philosophical Exploration, Oxford, 2000.

2 See Blum, L., Moral Perception and Particularity, Cambridge, 1994; Stocker, M., Valuing Emotions, Cambridge, 1996.

3 Greenspan, P., Emotions and Reasons, London, 1988; Audi, R., , R., ‘Moderate Intuitionism and the Epistemology of Moral Judgment’, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, i (1998); ed. Frijda, N. H., Manstead, A. S. R., and Ben, S., Emotions and Beliefs. How Feelings Influence Thought, Cambridge, 2000.

4 Gibbard, A., Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment, Cambridge, Mass., 1990, pp. 253 f.

5 Skorupski, J., Ethical Explorations, Oxford, 2000.

6 Ibid., p. 137.

7 Ibid., p. 140.

8 Such a response-dependence account need not be a version of realism, as in the case of Skorupski's approach it certainly is not. Response-dependence accounts are sometimes associated with dispositionalism which is often presented as a form of valuerealism. Response-dependence accounts can be distinguished from dispositionalist ones, however, and dispositionalism can also be understood in irrealist terms.

9 Mill, J. S., Utilitarianism, ch. 5, para. 14, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. Robson, J. M., Toronto, 1963 1991, x. 246.

11 Kant, I., Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Gregor, Mary J., Cambridge Edition of the Works of lmmanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy, Cambridge, 1996, § 77. (All references to Kant are to pages in the Prussian Academy edition.)

12 Ibid., § 80.

13 I thank an anonymous referee for pushing me to make this analogy explicit.

14 Skorupski, p. 170.

15 Skorupski, pp. 152 f. James on ‘cutting dead’ is illustrated in a footnote with the following citation: ‘No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such a thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all the members thereof.’ James, William, The Principles of Psychology, London, 1890, p. 293.

16 Skorupski, p. 151.

17 Pettit, Philip, The Common Mind: An Essay on Psychology, Society, and Politics, New York and Oxford, 1995, p. 331.

18 Skorupski, p. 170.

19 Kant, p. 77.

20 Ibid., p. 87.

21 Skorupski, p. 183.

23 Kant, § 74.

24 Ibid., § 79.

25 Ibid., § 77.

26 Ibid., § 76.

27 Ibid., p. 82.

28 Ibid., p. 75.

29 Ibid., p. 81.

30 Skorupski, p. 153.

31 Korsgaard, C. M., The Sources of Normativity, Cambridge, 1996, p. 99; see also ‘Reply’, p. 237.

32 Kant, I., Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Gregor, Mary J., Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy, Cambridge, 1996, p. 435.

33 Ibid., p. 402.

34 Ibid., p. 399.

35 I would like to thank John Skorupski and the members of the research group in ethics of Erasmus University Rotterdam for their oral and written comments on earlier versions of this article. I am also grateful to an anonymous reference of this journal who urged me to clarify and tighten my argument at various points.


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