A Theory of Vulnerability-based Morality

A.J.M. Dijker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The recent introduction of the concepts of tenderness, vulnerability, and parental care in the field of moral emotions has brought us closer to an understanding of the underlying mechanisms, but has not yet resulted in a systematic evolutionary and proximate analysis. Applying such an analysis, the present article proposes a hypothetical care mechanism that produces different motivational states or moral emotions (e.g., tenderness, sympathy, guilt, moral anger) in response to individuals perceived as vulnerable. The mechanism consists of a care system automatically triggered by vulnerability cues, a system for defense and aggression, and a process of causally attributing changes in the vulnerable object's well-being. The mechanism may also be useful in explaining moral responses in domains other than harm prevention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-183
JournalEmotion Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

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