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The Humean Sentimentalist Learns from the Aristotelian Anscombe

Michael Slote


Elizabeth Anscombe is an Aristotelian, but her insights allow one to make a better case for moral sentimentalism. The sentimentalist tradition emphasizes both the empathic and the active sides of compassion, benevolence, and other such sentiments, but hasn’t previously allowed us to see how these two aspects of the moral sentiments necessarily work together. However, Anscombe’s idea that one cannot simply desire a saucer of mud allows the sentimentalist to argue that compassion, e.g., as a motive cannot exist all on its own but requires empathic feeling. It can also be argued that empathy doesn’t merely lead to compassionate motivation but entails it. The two sides of compassion are necessarily tied together, and the paper ends by showing us how we might more deeply understand such a moral sentiment and others in terms of the traditional Chinese idea of the necessary complementarity of yin and yang.


Anscombe; compassion; empathy; Hume; sentimentalism; yin/yang

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