Hampshire Society discuss decisions with Dr Lacewing

Hampshire Society discuss decisions with Dr Lacewing

The Role of Emotions in Ethical Decision Making: A talk to the Hampshire Society from Dr. Michael Lacewing 

On January 13th the Hampshire Society welcomed Dr Michael Lacewing of Heythrop College, London, to Repton School to present a talk on the role of emotions in ethical decision making. 

Dr Lacewing began the talk by stating that ‘emotions are wired into our ethical responses’, by this he meant that we express our approval or disapproval of certain things through emotion. This theory is closely linked to Aristotle’s Virtue Theory, which elucidates that virtues are characteristics which allow us to feel an emotion suitable to that situation. He then explained that these virtues are like skills and can be trained. 

It was fascinating to hear real life case studies. One which was particularly fascinating was Darcia Narvaez’s ‘Case of Elliot’. Elliot was involved in an accident which consequentially caused damage to the emotion centres in his brain. Tests were done on his capability to make decisions and he was disastrous, even though his reasoning was intact. This led to the conclusion that emotional responses play an important part in making ethical decision making, suggesting that our reasoning faculty alone is not sufficient.

Our audience of Sixth Form RS pupils and members of the Hampshire Society was captivated by Dr. Lacewing’s talk and many interesting questions were raised. For example, Bobby Fordi (L6S) asked Dr. Lacewing: "How would Descartes respond to all of this if he could?" Bobby’s question stimulated the response “Descartes would support some of the ideas of emotion behind ethics, but that reason has privilege.’’ There were also lots of moments of pause and discussion which enabled some philosophical debate of our own making. Amazingly when making decisions, we subconsciously imagine all the different possibilities using reason, but it is our emotion which plays a big part, investing in the need to make the right choice and, in fact, guiding us carefully.

Dr. Lacewing concluded the talk by arguing that we find the values of situations through our emotional responses and our emotions play a key role when we make decisions; without emotions very little would be achieved. It was an incredibly inspiring talk and thoroughly enjoyable.