Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Stefan Baumrin


David Rosenthal

Committee Members

Nickolas Pappas

William Earle

Alex Orenstein

Subject Categories



This dissertation argues in part that because the ethical theory of sentimentalism is based on the mistaken belief that emotions are non-cognitive, sentimentalism cannot account for the fact of the influence of cognition in morality and moral action. Therefore sentimentalism is of little use in ethics.

This work is done by going back to examine Western thinking on the emotions from its dawn in Homer's writing through to contemporary philosophy and neurophysiology on the emotions. Following the development of the way emotions were thought of and how they related to ethics allows the identification of an intellectual forked path brought about by Stoic thinking on emotions and morality and calcified by the work of Ren퀌 Descartes on the emotions. I identify three `Cartesian errors' that have made their way through to David Hume's thought and from there to contemporary thinking on the emotions. The first Cartesian error is the belief that `mind' or `mental activity' is pure cognition and that `body' is an unthinking machine responsive only to pleasure and pain and having nothing to do with cognition. The second Cartesian error is the irreparable separation of emotion from cognition which forces a theory into an untenable, ad hoc distinction between calm and violent passions in order to imbue some emotions with intelligence. The third Cartesian error is being unable to coherently explain how the mind and the body could have duplex communication between `mind' and `body'.

I explain how the two contemporary camps, both `cognitivists' and `physicalists' about emotions are compromised by the Cartesian errors.

Finally, I show how experience, common sense and contemporary empirical findings in neurophysiology recommend to us a pluralist view of the emotions that avoids the Cartesian errors and fully embraces both their physiological basis and their accompanying `cognitivity', as well as a fruitful cognitive ethical theory that is something of a middle ground between the sentimentalism of Shaftesbury and Hume and the rationalist positions of thinkers such as Socrates and Berkeley. This theory, which will be worked out in more detail in the future, is a synthesis of the findings of Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, psychologist Richard Lazarus and contemporary psychophysiology.


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