Moral life and philosophical requirements: exploring possibilities for moral life through a liberation from philosophical requirements
AuthorMackenzie, Chloe Jayde
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Chloe Jayde Mackenzie
This thesis offers an examination of some ways in which moral philosophy imposes requirements on itself that often unduly limit, obscure, and distort our moral understanding, thinking, and responsiveness. Taking my motivation from Cora Diamond, I critically examine the work of some moral philosophers that I take to exemplify this kind of laying down of requirements. This examination will be taken in three broad directions, with a different critical focus in each of the chapters: a requirement that moral thinking and responsiveness ought to go on only through the use of rational capacities, to the exclusion of personally engaged responsiveness and understanding; a requirement that moral philosophers must make arguments, which can distort and obscure the meaning of complex and difficult moral realities through attempts to render dimensions of them into ‘facts’ that can be used in arguments; the assumption that moral responsiveness is primarily a matter of making ‘choices’ about how to act based on discrete options, and in which one’s moral understanding of a situation can be thought of as a matter of judgement involving the exercise of rational capacities to choose which principles or concepts are appropriate to apply to a particular situation. Each of these kinds of requirement is brought into contact with examples from elsewhere in philosophy, that I consider to offer meaningful possibilities for moral understanding and responsiveness. I attempt to illuminate the various ways in which these meaningful possibilities are limited, obscured, distorted, deflected from, and excluded through the aforementioned requirements that are laid down. Other related requirements and assumptions are drawn out from those I primarily focus on, in an attempt to show the connectedness of various kinds of requirements and how they shape philosophical pictures of moral life. This gives a better sketch of the extent of the presence of requirements in moral philosophy. I simultaneously invite consideration of a philosophical orientation to moral life that is grounded in a kind of ‘receptiveness’ that I argue is a crucial dimension of Iris Murdoch’s ‘attention’. In contrast to the kinds of outlooks that begin with philosophical assumptions and commitments and then look towards the world in which moral life takes place, this orientation begins with an openness to moral life and what possibilities might be disclosed to us through our receptiveness and attentiveness to the realities of moral life. This way of thinking re-situates moral philosophy, bringing its relatedness to moral life to the foreground so as to make philosophy responsive to life, and not the other way around. This offers a liberation from the philosophical requirements Diamond draws attention to. Moral philosophy thus becomes less of an outward pressing onto the world in ways that can unduly shape our sense of moral reality, and more of an answering to that reality. An answering that, following Murdoch, is in a spirit of justness and love.
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