Emotion and Ethical Decision Making

Historically, philosophical traditions view emotions as detrimental to moral reasoning and judgement because emotions are partial; for example, Kant believed emotional forces tainted the process of moral reasoning or decision making. The “veil of ignorance” test of fairness for example depicts fair decision as one that excludes bias like emotion. The philosophical traditions and psychology of moral development are believed to be limited in trying to apply ethics to real-life situations. Emotions at times undermine moral decision making, however, the strong position that emotions can never aid and are always harmful to decision making is questionable especially in light of recent studies about emotion and emotional processes.

Moral judgement was believed by the early philosophers like Plato and the Stoics to be solely a normative process bounded by cognitive reasoning. The field of moral psychology and philosophy have defined ethics as synonymous with rationality and cognition while the emotional dimension has been hugely criticized and believed to be subordinate to reason. One of the ‘Kantian’ arguments for the subordination of emotion to reason is simply that we cannot help what we feel, and therefore we cannot be held accountable for our feelings.

Research in recent times have shown that we are endowed with the capacity to regulate our emotions and that moral beliefs and practices are entrenched naturally in the very conditions of human existence rather than being entrenched in abstract principles. Emotion has been discovered to be important source of morality and it is fundamental to human existence and might play a vital role in recognizing what is ethical or unethical and in the subsequent ethical choice made. Emotions help to focus our attention and cognitive resources on the problem at hand. Emotion i.e. the way we feel, provide vital information for our ethical choices. For some, doing wrong makes them feel bad, and this also affects their choices, they will try to avoid doing bad. For some other people, they still feel good even though they are doing something wrong.

Ethical principles in business include, solidarity, fairness, refraining from willing to harm others etc. Decision making is a daily activity of business managers and they are expected to make responsible and ethical decisions. Therefore in making ethically responsible decisions that affect various stakeholders, emotion can contribute in the following ways: Firstly, emotions allow for a more particularistic and meaningful vision and attention to details and the concrete relationships. Secondly, emotions are essential aids for people as evaluators of situations and thirdly, emotions are affective conditions, enabling one to experience an attitude of concern, interest, attention, and care about the people and situation at stake.

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