Moral Beliefs vs. Sympathies

We are all people who live in a society that has its particular rules and norms. Generally, we follow them to act decently and be accepted. No one questions the principles he/she was taught starting with the early childhood. Our parents claimed that this is right, and that is bad, and we took their words on trust understanding that such ideas cannot be wrong, as they were formed during many years and became commonly accepted. Still, in some cases, we yield to our emotions and start reconsidering the issues trying to find a loophole that will help us to meet both personal and public’ expectations.

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This problem attracted the attention of the famous philosopher Jonathan Bennett. In his work, Bennett discussed how people treat their moral beliefs and personal sympathies. He used the episodes from the lives of such personalities as Huckleberry Finn, Heinrich Himmler, and Jonathan Edwards to illustrate the issue and prove his opinion. Thus, the author claimed that in the majority of cases when such contradiction occurs, a person should obey to one’s sympathy (Bennett, 1974). Personally I totally agree with Bennett and support his concept.

It should be underlined that not all rules the individual keeps to are to be neglected in favor of emotions and feelings. Here we are talking only about the bad morality. Of course, it cannot be specified exactly, as “bad” can be treated by various people in different ways depending on the situation. That is why in this context it refers to the actions that are generally objected and disfavored. Sympathy is something opposite, it covers “every sort of fellow-feeling, as when one feels pity over someone’s loneliness, or horrified compassion over his pain, or when one feels a shrinking reluctance to act in a way which will bring misfortune to someone else” (Bennett, 1974, p. 124). Thus, the beliefs are considered to be “good” until the moment when they start contradicting with emotions.

Evaluating the situation in which occurred Huck Finn, we can see this issue. He lived in the society that practiced slavery and believed it to be normal. Being a white man, he was taught that slaves are sold and bought, and their task is to serve the master and show respect to him. On this account, he treated such things normally. As Finn’s acquaintance Jim shared his thoughts about escape and buying out his wife and children, Huck got personally involved in a complicated situation.

This involvement is the thing that made him think over the problem. At first Finn applied his beliefs and decided that he did not need to help Jim, as slaves exist to be someone’s property. However, now he understood how the man perceived the reality they lived in, and some doubts crept into his mind. They awakened an echo in his heart and outshined the morality. Thus, Finn yielded to his emotions and obeyed sympathies.

A familiar situation is seen in other examples provided by the author even though Himmler seemed to be more concerned about his own emotional state if he continues doing the things he was to do but wished not to. With the help of them, the author tried to prove that sympathy is the greatest trigger that makes people change their views.

Needless to say that morality is the thing that does not occur spontaneously. The beliefs that are transferred from parents to their children are well-grounded and commonly accepted. Their rectitude has been proved for a long period of time. Still, human beings make mistakes, and nobody is perfect. That is why some individuals may find particular moral concepts inappropriate, as they deepen into the subject being involved in a doubtful situation, which appeals to their emotions. For many years, the population of our planet believed it to be flat, and the dissentient of this assumption were severely punished. However, today we know that even this generally accepted belief was wrong, so why cannot some moral concepts also be erroneous?

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I believe that people are to question the things they used to in order to enhance our reality. The main thing that is to be considered is the advantage. A person should yield to the sympathies and reject bad morality to gain benefit for oneself or someone else. Of course, people may argue that such consideration presupposes more than just feelings and emotions, and it turns out to be moral judgment instead, but I cannot completely agree.

To my mind, sympathy occurs when one does not realize the advantage but finds it unconsciously. I am speaking of people’s basic needs and their instincts. The will to survive and procreate can be seen in the examples provided by Bennett. Jim’s life does not belong to him, and he wants to escape not just to become free from his master but also to control his life and live longer. Of course, he is going to reunite with his family because he loves them and carries for them but it is also the way to make sure that his children will live and continue his race. Finn sympathizes with Jim, as the same values are inherited by him. Otherwise, he would fill nothing and would not think that he is doing something great by saving the slave’s life and helping him. Moreover, the same idea is relevant to the exception provided by the author.

Bennett claims that the presumption in favor of sympathies should not be always kept to. For example, when the child needs health care but is afraid of the doctor and the procedures, personal feelings are to be neglected. I support his idea and believe that the woman is to resist the impulsion to calm down the kid. The main thing a mother perceives is the fact that her child is disturbed and scared. The immediate reaction imposed by instincts is to protect him/her, but in this way she is likely to put the kid’s life at risk. Thus, she needs to refer to her principles and consider the situation.

We may come to the conclusion that people stick to their beliefs until the moment they stop generalizing. Facing the situation that seems to be wrong, they obey their sympathies and neglect bad morality, which is the right thing to do. In the first case, the instincts were initially subdued by moral principles dictated by the beliefs of society and duty. These people felt that something was going wrong and found the strength to enhance the situation by yielding to their feelings. In the second case, everything was vice versa. However, if the mother had acted on the basis of sympathy, there would be nothing wrong. After calming down the child, she would reconsider the situation and stick to morality. Of course, in urgent and life-threatening cases, it will be too dangerous. Still, in the majority of situations obeying to sympathy is of advantage.


Bennett, J. (1974). The conscience of Huckleberry Finn. Philosophy, 49(188), 123-134. Web.

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