Empathy and Moral Engagement: Historical Lessons from Hume, Smith, and Rousseau Towards a Defense of Moral Sentimentalism


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation argues that empathy is essential to our ability to deliberate impartially about moral value. It contends that a defensible version of moral sentimentalism—the view that moral evaluation is, in part, grounded in emotional sensitivities—requires recognizing the contribution of empathy to forming moral judgments. In developing this thesis, this study critically examine the historical sentimentalist psychologies of David Hume, Adam Smith, and Jean–Jacques Rousseau. Unlike most contemporary moral sentimentalists, they give serious attention to empathy as a psychological basis for moral judgment. By recovering these historical approaches, this project fills a gap in the psychology of contemporary moral sentimentalism, ultimately reconstructing Smith’s sentimentalist model of moral reasoning and defend it against current sentimentalist approaches in moral theory.