Emotion and Morality: Understanding the Role of Empathy and Other Specific Emotions in Moral Judgment and Moral Behaviour

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Ramlakhan, Nalini Elisa




Empathy is often considered to be an important emotion for morality. In fact, many resesearchers argue that morality is impossible without empathy (Howe, 2013). In this research project, I argue against the widely held view that empathy is important for morality. I examine autistic individuals and psychopaths, both known for having an impairment in empathy, in order to show that empathy is not important for morality.I argue that although autistic individuals are deficient in empathy, they display moral behaviour, thus empathy cannot be the core of morality. I argue that while psychopaths are said to lack empathy, they are not wholly devoid of empathy. If it is the case that psychopaths do not fully lack empathy, then there must be more to morality than empathy. I also show that empathy can cause partiality, and thus cannot be the core of morality. In support of a sentimentalist framework of morality, I determine the emotions important for morality by conducting a systematic review of the studies on emotion and morality. I examine and analyze studies conducted on both negative and positive emotions. I conclude that disgust, anger, distress sympathy, elevation, and mirth are important emotions for morality.


Psychology - Social




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Cognitive Science

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Theses and Dissertations

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