Pre-Reflective Ethical Know-How

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (2):279-294 (2013)
In recent years there has been growing attention paid to a kind of human action or activity which does not issue from a process of reflection and deliberation and which is described as, e.g., ‘engaged coping’, ‘unreflective action’, and ‘flow’. Hubert Dreyfus, one of its key proponents, has developed a phenomenology of expertise which he has applied to ethics in order to account for ‘everyday ongoing ethical coping’ or ‘ethical expertise’. This article addresses the shortcomings of this approach by examining the pre-reflective ethical know-how individuals first develop and on which all later forms of ethical expertise are dependent. In the first section an account is given of the ‘ethical second nature’ which every individual develops from childhood onwards and which forms the basis of pre-reflective ethical know-how. The acquisition of an ethical second nature early on opens up the very domain of ‘the ethical’ for us in the first place and is constitutive of our sensitivity to it. The second section turns to pre-reflective ethical know-how and whether it is conceptual in nature. Just as sensorimotor understanding forms the basis of our reflective perceptual concepts, pre-reflective ethical know-how is similarly proto-conceptual and is the source of our reflective ethical and moral concepts. Finally, the third section examines the process whereby ethical second nature and pre-reflective ethical know-how are actually acquired, namely, through immersion in an ‘ethical world’. This world consists of both the web of ethical meanings and significances which has evolved in a particular society or community as well as its members whose actions and interactions continually reproduce that web.
Keywords Ethical naturalism  Virtue ethics  John McDowell  Hubert Dreyfus  Moral psychology  Enactivism  Cognitive science
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DOI 10.1007/s10677-012-9333-z
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John McDowell (1994). Mind and World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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