Fall 2019 Colloquium Series - 15 November
Katie Stockdale, University of Victoria :: Moral Shock
Friday, November 15 2019
Abstract: Consider the last time you were shocked by something you witnessed, read, or heard about. This talk is about the nature of that experience, particularly in response to morally bad behavior. I argue that moral shock is a form of intense surprise in response to events taken to be of moral significance. In contrast to the standard view of surprise, I argue that we can be surprised by events not only when our expectations are violated, but also when our expectations about how things will go are confirmed. What makes an event surprising, I argue, is not necessarily that it violated one’s expectations, but that the content of the event is bewildering (and bewildering events are very often, but not always, contrary to our expectations). Not all of us, however, are surprised by bewildering events. I argue that the extent to which a person will be surprised by a bewildering event depends upon how prepared they are, emotionally, to be in the midst of it. I then respond to the worry that the fleetingness of moral shock renders it morally insignificant. I show that the emotion is significant in four related ways: it influences the experience and onset of resentment, it causes motivational deficiencies in those who experience it, it can give rise to or exacerbate the emotion of shame, and it leads to vivid memories which figure prominently in our narratives about moral life.