The idea of attention was brought back into mainstream philosophical thinking about ethics by Iris Murdoch, drawing on Simone Weil. While Murdoch’s use of the idea has been reflected on by a number of recent commentators, I think its deepest lessons have largely been missed. Beginning from a recurrent and revealing misreading of Murdoch on attention, a misreading often articulated through reflection on Murdoch’s example of M and D, I want to bring out some of those lessons. It is well-known (...) that Murdoch links attention with just and loving vision. I describe a common, mistaken account of what she means by just and loving vision, and I then turn to other connotations of attention invoked by Murdoch. These other connotations are mentioned in dispatches by some commentators, but not dwelt upon. While Murdoch herself does not explore them extensively either, I argue that they are important for teasing out what matters most in Murdoch’s invocation of attention. As that way of putting suggests, my interest in Murdochian exegesis is eventually superseded by my attempts to elicit what I think to be some of the most fruitful implications of her reflections on attention. (shrink)
I begin with a resume ofJ ackson's position. I shall follow this with some counter- examples; and end with a diagnosis of why the problems with Jackson's account arise. In objecting to Jackson's account I am not presupposing the truth of one or other particular account of akrasia. What I am supposing is that unless we recognize some kind of conflict of mind as engaged at the time of action, we are not speaking of akrasia. I hive argued that Jackson, (...) in supposedly giving an account of the akratic conflict between 'reason and desire', turns it into a temporal relation between states of a person which can obtain without a conflict of the relevant kind obtaining at all. The account therefore fails to clarify the nature of the conflict out of which an akratic action may arise. It does in fact seem that a Humean view of the relation between reason and desire is ill-fitted to recognition of the phenomenon of weakness of will. But Humeans have proved themselves most ingenious over two centuries. Perhaps they will yet manage to effect the fit. (shrink)
I distinguish, describe and explore two different conceptions of love that inform our lives. One conception found its classic philosophical articulation in Plato, the other its richest expressions in Christian thought. The latter has not had the same secure place in our philosophical traditon as the former. By trying to bring out what is distinctive in this second conception of love, centrally including its significance in revealing the fundamental value of human beings, I aim to show the importance of extending (...) our philosophical reflection to acknowledge it. (shrink)
In his later writings on ethics Foucault argues that rapport à soi – the relationship to oneself – is what gives meaning to our commitment to ‘moral behaviour’. In the absence of rapport à soi, Foucault believes, ethical adherence collapses into obedience to rules (‘an authoritarian structure’). I make a case, in broadly Levinasian terms, for saying that the call of ‘the other’ is fundamental to ethics. This prompts the question whether rapport à soi fashions an ethical subject who is (...) unduly self-concerned. Here we confront two apparently irreconcilable pictures of the source of moral demands. I describe one way of trying to reconcile them from a Foucaultian perspective, and I note the limitations in the attempt. I also try to clear away what I think to be a misunderstanding on Foucault’s part about what is at stake in the choice between these pictures. To clarify my critique of Foucault, I also relate it to a similar recent critique of virtue ethics by Thomas Hurka. (shrink)
Foucault's resistance to a universalist ethics, especially in his later writings, is well-known. Foucault thinks that ethical universalism presupposes a shared human essence, and that this presupposition makes it a straitjacket, an attempt to force people to conform to an externally imposed 'pattern'. Foucault's hostility may be warranted for one - perhaps the usual - conception of ethical universality. But there are other conceptions of ethical universality that are not vulnerable to Foucault's criticism, and that are ethically and culturally important. (...) I set out one such conception, and show why it matters. Paul Patton has argued that Foucault is best read as grounding his analyses of power in a 'conception of human being' traceable to Nietzsche. I explain why this does not amount to the ethical universalism that I sketch below. (shrink)
Over several decades, Cora Diamond has articulated a distinctive way of thinking about ethics. Prompted by a recent critique of Diamond, we elucidate some of the main themes of her work, and reveal their power to reconfigure and deepen moral philosophy. In concluding, we suggest that Diamond’s moral philosophical practice can be seen as one plausible way of fleshing out what Wittgenstein might have meant by his dictum that “ethics is transcendental”.
The essay combines a specific and a more general theme. In attacking ‘the doctrine of the sanctity of human life’ Singer takes himself thereby to be opposing the conviction that human life has special value. I argue that this conviction goes deep in our lives in many ways that do not depend on what Singer identifies as central to that ‘doctrine’, and that his attack therefore misses its main target. I argue more generally that Singer’s own moral philosophy affords only (...) an impoverished and distorted sense of the value of human life and human beings. In purporting to dig below the supposedly illusion–ridden surface of our thinking about value, Singer in fact often leads us away from the robust terrain of our lived experience into rhetorical, and sometimes brutal, fantasy. (shrink)
This book shows how our moral concepts are nourished by awe, reverence, and various forms of love. These ways of encountering the world and other human beings inform our sense of good and evil, of justice and injustice, of obligation, of fidelity and betrayal, and of many virtues and vices. In ways moral philosophy commonly misses, this book shows moral understanding is broadened and deepened by what is disclosed only in these forms of encounter.
This is a welcome volume. The many footnotes of praise for Iris Murdoch’s philosophical work were for many years not matched by actual discussion of it. This collection, long incubated and containing essays by many well-known figures with a continuing interest in Murdoch’s work, is one of several recent signs of this imbalance’s being righted. Anyone interested in Murdoch’s philosophical thinking—spilling over into ways it informs her novels—will find plenty to engage him here. A ninety-two page introduction by Justin Broackes (...) gives us a carefully plotted historical context for appreciating Murdoch’s work, detailed summaries of her main philosophical writings, and also fertile, wide-ranging, and .. (shrink)
Against moral philosophers' traditional preoccupation with ‘ought’ judgments, Bernard Williams has reminded us of the importance of locutions such as ‘I must’, ‘I have to’ and ‘I can't’. He develops an account of the ethical necessity and impossibility these locutions are able to mark. The account draws on his thesis that all reasons for action are ‘internal’. I sketch the account, and then try to show that it is insensitive to important aspects of how the concepts of ethical necessity and (...) impossibility inform our lives. (shrink)
Daniel Putman thinks I am right to hold that for Aristotle a concern to appear before one's peers in a certain way is internal to virtue. He takes me to suppose that things are otherwise under a ‘modern concept of virtue’, and says that I am wrong about this. Putman rightly distinguishes between a desire to look good before one's peers which is a substitute for virtue, and a desire to look good to them because, acting virtuously, ‘we genuinely deserve (...) to be viewed that way’. Once this distinction is made, Putman thinks, we can appreciate that modern ethical understanding is as much dependent on ‘the communitarian foundation of character’ as is Aristotelian virtue. The only thing, says Putman, which gulls us into thinking otherwise is the sociological fact that Aristotle's political community was homogenous, while ours is heterogenous, so that more often virtuous people today will have to act in a way which goes against what many around them think. (shrink)
Talbot Brewer has argued that contemporary philosophy of action and ethics are hampered by a picture of human agency as essentially consisting in bringing about states of affairs – a “production-oriented” conception of action. From classical sources, centrally including Aristotle, Brewer retrieves a different picture – of human activity as fundamentally “dialectical”. Ritual activity, including a ritual dimension of many dialectical activities, affirms and deepens our human presence in and to the world, and to other human beings. I argue that (...) this aspect of ritual activity cannot be adequately recognised in the terms of Brewer's dialectical account of human activity. (shrink)
The work of Raimond Gaita, in books such as _Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception_, _A Common Humanity_ and _The Philosopher’s Dog_, has made an outstanding and controversial contribution to philosophy and to the wider culture. In this superb collection an international team of contributors explore issues across the wide range of Gaita’s thought, including the nature of good and evil, philosophy and biography, the unthinkable, Plato and ancient philosophy, Wittgenstein, the religious dimensions of Gaita’s work, aspects of the Holocaust, (...) and aboriginal reconciliation in Australia. (shrink)