Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2011

Document Type




First Advisor

Brian Talbot


While feelings and emotions are quite important in daily life, their role in morality has often been underplayed. Although there have been some ethical theories, such as David Hume's sentimentalism, that place feelings as an important cornerstone of morality, feelings are often regarded as motivators for moral actions at best and destroyers of moral character at worst. I will argue that feelings play an important role in morality via the nature of harm. Feelings, when properly defined, are present in all cases of harm as either actual or possible negative experiences. A feeling is a non-localizable mental phenomenon that has an affective experience. This experience can be crudely classified as positive or negative; feelings such as pain and anxiety belong in the negative category. It is these negative feelings which cause harm to be bad for the one who experiences it. Harm is often defined in either a comparative or a non-comparative account. The comparative account of harm is fatally flawed since it cannot account for verdetermined harms and difficult comparison cases, among other things. As such, the non-comparative account is to be preferred. Under the non-comparative account of harm, death is not harmful, and neither is anything else than cannot be experienced. Thus I will argue that only things that can be both experienced and felt in a negative fashion can be harmful for a person. At least some wrong acts are wrong because they are harmful. Everything that is harmful is dependent on feelings, so some wrongful acts are dependent on feelings. While harm is not the only factor that can cause an act to be wrong, since there are acts that are harmful without being wrong, harm plays an important role in morality.