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UC Berkeley Morality and Moral Philosophy Question

A quick note about the topics—the sub-questions are designed to help you think about possible ways to develop your ideas for the paper. You do not have to answer all of them, and certainly not in the order they are presented or to the same degree.They are merely a set of questions to fill out the topic—i.e., to get you started thinking about what the paper topic question is really about and how you might go about structuring your response.

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  • Hume and Smith, among others, locate our sympathetic tendencies at the center of morality and moral motivation.It is one of the main emotions that explains why we tend to feel a natural concern for the happiness and well-being of other human beings.Yet, on a daily basis, we see examples of human behavior that seems to exhibit a complete and utter disregard for the happiness and well-being of others—from pulling out a camera to film a violent hate crime rather than try to help, to instances of cancel culture and social media bullying, or (as I discussed in lecture), to merely passing a person by whose wheelchair was stuck in a poorly patched sidewalk.This has lead some to question just how stable and reliable our natural sympathetic tendencies are.Kant, in particular, argues that sympathy and other natural (empirical) altruistic emotions may be praiseworthy in many respects, but the variability that they exhibit show them to be unsuitable to serve as moral motives.Who do you agree with and why?In answering, be sure to explain what Smith thinks sympathy is and how it works.Then use Smith’s account to analyze the example of the person in the wheelchair (or a related example—one in which the majority failed to feel sympathy).What explains why I felt sympathy for the individual, why others failed to feel sympathy, and what difference that makes as to how important sympathy might be to morality (in general—i.e., in explaining why it is that we might be moved to help others when it is of no benefit to ourselves).For those of you who have a background in Kant’s Groundwork (or see the connection with the “material practical principles” in the second Critique), you may include some of Kant’s reasons for rejecting empirical emotions (our inclinations) from serving as moral motives.

(Hint: the gist of this question is to get you i) to explore the complexity of sympathy—the object of the emotion, the subject of the emotion, the process of imaginative identification that it requires, the potential voluntariness of or control over the emotion, the purpose or benefit of feeling it—whether it is merely good to feel sympathy or is it also good because it helps us understand a situation better so that we can act appropriately, and so on, ii) to get you to consider its positive and negative aspects of the emotion, like what limits our ability to imaginatively identify with others, what prevents us from even trying (or wanting to try), can it be cultivated/trained, how might it contribute to our overcoming prejudices and biases and how might it serve to reinforce them, etc., and iii) to come to a decision of your own as to whether sympathy is the right sort of thing we should be looking to in order to explain our moral behavior.There is a lot to explore here—so say something substantive about Smith and his theory of sympathy, then explore what he has to say about it, make the discussion your own, develop the points that you think are most interesting, and of course,)