Colloquium: Emotions versus Gut Feelings in Decisions about Risks

Empirical research by Jonathan Haidt and Joshua Greene seems to support the idea that in moral decision making under uncertainty, people follow their initial intuitions and ‘gut reactions’. Rational judgments are at most rationalizations or afterthoughts. This paper will challenge the theoretical assumptions made by Greene and Haidt, by proposing a different theory of ethical intuitions and emotions. Ethical intuitions and emotions should not be conflated with spontaneous ‘gut reactions’. Rather, ethical intuitions and emotions can be the source and the result of ethical reflection and deliberation. This allows for different interpretations of the empirical findings of Haidt and Greene and of psychologists who study emotional responses to risks, such as Paul Slovic and George Loewenstein. Emotional and intuitive responses to risk should not be seen as heuristics that are prone to be biases, rather, they should be seen as invaluable sources of insight when it comes to judging the moral acceptability of risks.

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