Moral Phenomenology Sensibility Theory Enables Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Intellectually my mind was saying: how could this happen in an open and public place with dozens of people walking in the area? There was also a sense of moral anger at the way that social rules and norms were being so openly being flouted. This feeling was strong and related to the physical sense of disgust and distress that I felt at the situation.


The above aspects, the physical, mental and emotional, were certainly intertwined in this experience. It is difficult to say which was more dominant; however, the physical and the bodily sensations where central and seemed to inform the intellectual and social aspects.

What is clear for the experience is that the physical and bodily aspects and feelings were a cardinal factor in the understanding or the comprehension of the situation as a whole.

4. Analysis

The experience recounted above shows the validity and the importance of the views of sensibility theory from a number of perspectives. The experience of being robbed at gunpoint and the sense of moral and ethical outrage and resentment cannot be simply explained away or reduced in terms of external or objective ethical considerations. Objective views of morality would suggest that morality is something that is outside or different from the primary or physical effects of bodily sensation. This was clearly not the case in the experience described above.

A found that the bodily cues and the total physical experience of the situation was extremely strong and played a major role in the perception and interpretation of the entire event. One could say that the bodily experience informed the moral aspects. For example, the strong sense of smell which permeated the memory of this incident is a factor that contributes very significantly to the moral feelings. This smell was not the same as one would experience in a different situation, such as a sports activity, but was laden with a distasteful sense of ethical transgression.

Another way in which this experience tends to validate sensibility theory is that sensibility theory suggests that moral qualities are as real as so-called secondary or physical qualities of experience. As one theorist on the subject states, "According to Mencius and Hume, moral qualities, like secondary qualities, are conceptually tied to certain human sensibilities; that is, they are response-dependent. This position has been called sensibility theory by contemporary ethical writers." (Liu, Xiusheng 75)

As the above statement suggests, the experience of being held at gunpoint was dependent on various cues and responses, which include both physical and social aspects. For example, I was also influenced by social norms and standards in my response to the situation. One of the most telling parts was the experience of social and moral outrage that I was being robbed in public. This can be seen to be part of the social and ethical conditioning of my culture and society.

However, at the same time the social conditioning aspect does invalidate sensibility theory in any way. It does not mean, as some detractors might suggest, that the moral feelings that I experienced can be reduced simply to social constructions. There were other factors which were just as, if not more, significant than the more intellectual and objective social - ethical sense of wrongness. The physical sensations as well as the feeling of something evil suggested by the smell of sweat, as well as other bodily sensations, were equally important to the event as a moral experience.

The experience points to another aspect that also tends to justify sensibility theory. Sensibility theory can best be understood when it is compared to other views of ethics and morality. For example, moral realists state that, "... A person's opinion, belief, or response to certain things is conceptually or metaphysically independent of the existence of moral facts. In other words, moral facts are evidence-independent." (Liu, Xiusheng 75) However the experience that I had shows clearly that the moral feelings that were experienced were not objective but rather extremely evidence- dependent on physical as well as other sensation. This would suggest that sensibility theory provides a framework from which to explain morality in more holistic and inclusive terms.

Works Cited

Liu, Xiusheng. Mencius, Hume, and Sensibility Theory, Philosophy East…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Liu, Xiusheng. Mencius, Hume, and Sensibility Theory, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Jan., 2002), pp. 75-97

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