Risk Emotions and Risk Judgments: Passive Bodily Experience and Active Moral Reasoning in Judgmental Constellations


Coeckelbergh, Mark (2007) Risk Emotions and Risk Judgments: Passive Bodily Experience and Active Moral Reasoning in Judgmental Constellations. In: Conference ‘Moral Emotions about Risky Technologies’, 3-4 May 2007, Delft, the Netherlands.

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Abstract:Experts typically accuse lay people of ‘emotional’ responses to technological risk as opposed to their own ‘rational’ judgment. This attitude is in tune with risk perception research that qualifies lay people’s responses in terms of bias (e.g. Slovic et. al. 2004), and with the Kantian view of emotions as irrational forces that should be separated from judgment. If we wish to reject such views and link emotions to judgment in a stronger way, one route is to embrace cognitivism and argue that emotions are judgments (Solomon 1980, 2003), and/or that they are assessable as rational or irrational (de Sousa 1987). However, this solution does not account for the ‘raw’, bodily and passive aspect of much emotional experience. William James’s early view of emotions as the experience of bodily changes (James 1884) and Jesse Prinz’s version of this view (Prinz 2004) may deliver that, but at the cost of downplaying the role of practical rationality.

In this paper I attempt to steer a different course. I argue that we should neither conflate emotions with judgment nor separate them entirely, but rather provide an account of the exact relation between the two which does justice to the specificity of both, one aspect of which I characterise in terms of activity and passivity.

To further reflect on the relation between emotions and judgment, I seek inspiration from Angela Smith’s recent argument that there is a normative connection between spontaneous attitudinal reactions and our underlying evaluative judgments and commitments (Smith 2005). Applying this ‘rational relations’ view to the relation between emotions and judgments, I argue that emotions – however passive, bodily, overwhelming etc. – are rationally connected to judgments and the values on which we based them, or are at least always open to such a connection. Rather than conceptualising this connection in terms of ‘expression’ or ‘reflection’, emotions and judgments are, or can be, as active and passive elements both part of a ‘constellation of moral judgment’, a concept which I coin to avoid both identity and separation, and to allow a two-way process.

If this view is plausible, we must take seriously people’s so-called ‘gut reactions’ to technological risk as being potentially rationally related to, but not identical to, judgment. This recognises the possibility of actively changing our attitude to risk if we judge that there are good reasons to do so, but appreciates that if sometimes technological risk strikes us with fear and horror, that experience teaches us much about what we judge to be important.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Additional information:Invited speaker + chair of a session
Link to this item:http://purl.utwente.nl/publications/76246
Conference URL:http://www.ethicsandtechnology.eu/index.php/news/comments/moral_emotions_about_risky_technologies/#continued
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