Dissertation

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Dissertation abstract

An underexplored aspect of moral experience is apprehending (“seeing”) other people as mattering, grasping the significance of whether their interests are set back or enhanced. This dissertation contends that these ‘value-apprehensional’ (v-a) experiences play an important role of revealing values to us, both in our experiences of people in general and of those emotionally close to us. Caring emotions are plausibly involved in enabling, enriching, and enhancing these.

An initial contention (in Ch. 2) is that experiencing other people’s value is one way that we attain adequate systematic comprehension of morality. Evidence for this includes findings about psychopaths’ performance on the so-labeled moral-conventional task. Psychopaths tend to be impaired in comprehending that protecting welfare is the point behind rules prohibiting acts of harming. This suggests that they are impaired at apprehending the significance of others’ welfare, and this seems traceable to early emotional impairments.

I then turn to a positive account (in Ch. 3) of what capacities we should expect to facilitate value-apprehensional experiences. I suggest we should look to the capacity to care emotionally about others: roughly, to feel emotions congruent with someone else’s well-being, for her sake. I argue that this ‘emotional caring’ is better suited to explain value-apprehensional experience than other constructs, including empathy (which I understand as feeling what one takes another to be feeling). I argue (in Ch. 4) that to the extent that emotional caring enables and improves our value-apprehensional abilities, we should (all else being equal) consider skilled carers to have more reliable moral intuitions than others. I also suggest attention-refocusing strategies for mitigating the many biases that plague caring emotions. These are epitomized by what I call an unaffiliated caring perspective, one unaffiliated with a morally relevant situation’s protagonists, but informed through emotional caring about the (weight of) the interests of each.

Finally, I turn (in Ch. 5) to special value-apprehensional experiences that we have in intense, reciprocal relationships of caring with ‘special others’ such as friends and family. I argue that these special v-a experiences reveal even more certainly the moral significance of the parties in the relationship and of their participation in the relationship, for both their sakes. Accordingly, there seem to be moral reasons to devote caring attention to special others, even if we could otherwise do objectively more good (within reason). Emotional cares thus reveal not only values within everyone but reasons to devote ourselves to the individuals we care about.

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