The role of emotions in moral case deliberation: theory, practice, and methodology

Bioethics. 2011 Sep;25(7):383-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2011.01914.x.


In clinical moral decision making, emotions often play an important role. However, many clinical ethicists are ignorant, suspicious or even critical of the role of emotions in making moral decisions and in reflecting on them. This raises practical and theoretical questions about the understanding and use of emotions in clinical ethics support services. This paper presents an Aristotelian view on emotions and describes its application in the practice of moral case deliberation. According to Aristotle, emotions are an original and integral part of (virtue) ethics. Emotions are an inherent part of our moral reasoning and being, and therefore they should be an inherent part of any moral deliberation. Based on Aristotle's view, we examine five specific aspects of emotions: the description of emotions, the attitude towards emotions, the thoughts present in emotions, the reliability of emotions, and the reasonable principle that guides an emotion. We then discuss three ways of dealing with emotions in the process of moral case deliberation. Finally, we present an Aristotelian conversation method, and present practical experiences using this method.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making / ethics*
  • Emotions*
  • Ethical Theory
  • Ethics Consultation*
  • Ethics, Clinical*
  • Humans
  • Morals*
  • Philosophy