Tinted Moral Lenses: On Moral Perception and Self-Perception

Dissertation, Washington University (2000)

The role that moral perceptions play in our lives are of considerable importance, for they often set the stage for how we will behave and how we will treat other people. In this dissertation, 'moral perception' simply means seeing a person or situation in terms of moral categories; it is a perception formed by all types of perceivers, from the moral saint to the moral miscreant. It does not indicate a manner of seeing things in the 'right' way, but simply means seeing things in terms of categories such as good and bad, right and wrong, or what ought and ought not be done. I argue here that the categories which influence moral perception are largely social, and that our self-perceptions are often intimately tied to our moral perceptions of others. ;One of the main tasks of this dissertation is to clarify how it is that moral perceptions are formed. I defend a constructivist account of perception, claiming that, as perceivers, we actively organize and filter stimuli in the world through our concepts and categories. Of particular relevance to moral perception are the categories of race and gender, and I draw on the work of feminists, critical race theorists, and others, to demonstrate how perceiving in terms of categories such as race and gender can in fact mean perceiving in ways that both evidence and reinforce oppressive cultural norms. ;A second main task of this dissertation is to inquire into how we ought to evaluate moral perceptions. I argue that, for both theorizers and perceivers, moral perception ought to be recognized as an embodied activity---as an activity of perceiving from a situated position in a social context. I also claim that when we ask the question of how we ought to perceive, we should aim our evaluative questions not merely at the perceiver herself, but at the social norms which shape her perceptions as well
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