The exploration of moral life

In Justin Broakes (ed.), Iris Murdoch, philosopher. Oxford University Press (2011)

Carla Bagnoli
University of Modena
The most distinctive feature of Murdoch's philosophical project is her attempt to reclaim the exploration of moral life as a legitimate topic of philosophical investigation. In contrast to the predominant focus on action and decision, she argues that “what we require is a renewed sense of the difficulty and complexity of the moral life and the opacity of persons. We need more concepts in terms of which to picture the substance of our being” (AD 293).1 I shall argue that to fully appreciate the novelty of this proposal we need to recognize some elements of continuity with analytic methods of philosophical inquiry and themes that belong to continental traditions. On Murdoch's view, the most important question facing moral philosophy is that of whether and how we can become better. In order to describe moral progress and failure, struggle and ascent, we need ethical concepts capable of capturing mental events such as change in mind, self-examination, and redescription. These concepts are presently unavailable, and this lack seriously undermines our attempts to understand the phenomena of morality. Because of this conceptual loss, we succumb to the mistaken idea that moral life coincides with its scattered outer manifestations, i.e. public acts. Instead, Murdoch urges us “the moral life […] is something that goes on continually, not something that is switched off in between the occurrence of explicit moral choices” (SG 37).2 Murdoch's point is that we need to conceive the locus of agency more broadly if we want to understand the complicated machinery of action. But perhaps more importantly, she points out that we may be morally active while entertaining a contemplative attitude, which does not issue in action. The grain of moral life, she argues, is constituted by the..
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Moral Progress and Evolution: Knowledge Versus Understanding.Eleonora Severini - 2021 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 24 (1):87-105.

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