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Moral disillusion: shattering moral illusions for the sake of taking responsibility

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I present in this dissertation a theory of moral disillusion. In chapter 1 I explain moral innocence and its loss. I show that becoming morally responsible requires shattering the illusion

I present in this dissertation a theory of moral disillusion. In chapter 1 I explain moral innocence and its loss. I show that becoming morally responsible requires shattering the illusion that one is not an appropriate candidate for the reactive attitudes. The morally responsible individual must understand that she can be an agent of wrongdoing. In chapter 2 I explore the nature of the understanding that accompanies the different phases of disillusion. I show that moral disillusion is an ability, not to follow moral principles, but to question them. In chapter 3 I argue that another phase of disillusion involves an acquaintance with evil. One shatters the illusion that only malicious individuals can be evildoers. Morally good people can also bring about evil. I conclude that evil is the exploitation of the extremely vulnerable. In chapters 4 and 5, I analyze more complex phases of moral disillusion. These stages are characterized by an understanding that one can be an agent of unchosen evil, that one might bring about evil even when pursuing the morally best course of action, and that one can be morally responsible for doing so. In order to understand unchosen evil and the tragedy of inescapable moral wrongdoing, the individual sees that moral responsibility ought to track what we care about, rather than what we believe. In chapter 6 I show that Kierkegaard's conception of the self is a philosophy of moral disillusion. I argue that his prescription that we shatter moral illusions is congruent with Harry Frankfurt's prescription that we ought to care about some things and not others. From this discussion emerges the explicit distinction between moral disillusion and moral goodness. Moreover, I conclude that the morally disillusioned are morally accountable for more than those still harboring moral illusions. Although moral disillusion does not entail becoming morally good, by acquiring the ability to raise questions about moral principles and to affect the content of one's cares, one acquires the ability to take responsibility for, and potentially minimize, evil. To have and understand these abilities, but not to care about them, increases one's moral accountability.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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Moral responsibility and quality of will

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This dissertation puts forth an account of moral responsibility. The central claim defended is that an agent's responsibility supervenes on the agent's mental states at the time of the action.

This dissertation puts forth an account of moral responsibility. The central claim defended is that an agent's responsibility supervenes on the agent's mental states at the time of the action. I call the mental states that determine responsibility the agent's quality of will (QOW). QOW is taken to concern the agent's action, understood from an internal perspective, along with the agent's motivations, her actual beliefs about the action, and the beliefs she ought to have had about the action. This approach to responsibility has a number of surprising implications. First, blameworthiness can come apart from wrongness, and praiseworthiness from rightness. This is because responsibility is an internal notion and rightness and wrongness are external notions. Furthermore, agents can only be responsible for their QOW. It follows that agents cannot be responsible for the consequences of their actions. I further argue that one's QOW is determined by what one cares about. And the fact that we react to the QOW of others with morally reactive emotions, such as resentment and gratitude, shows that we care about QOW. The reactive attitudes can therefore be understood as ways in which we care about what others care about. Responsibility can be assessed by comparing one's actual QOW to the QOW one ought to have had.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2011

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Finding character [electronic resource]: character and the challenge from situationism

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Recently, philosophers have charged that Aristotelian-based virtue theories are empirically inadequate because the conception of character in which they are grounded is largely unfounded by findings in psychology. These philosophers

Recently, philosophers have charged that Aristotelian-based virtue theories are empirically inadequate because the conception of character in which they are grounded is largely unfounded by findings in psychology. These philosophers argue in favor of situationism, the theory from social psychology that situational rather than dispositional differences among individuals are in large part responsible for human behavior. Situationists dispute the existence of traits that remain consistent across time and diverse situations and argue that features of situations can better explain and predict human behavior. After analyzing the psychological literature and historical cases put forth as evidence for situationism as well as the basic premises grounding arguments against situationism, I make some conclusions about the best responses to situationism. I agree with situationists that Aristotelian-based virtue and character are not quite empirically adequate but disagree that human behavior owes more to situational rather than dispositional determinants. Basing my theory on literature from social psychology, I argue instead that a concept of character grounded in social-cognitive theory is more psychologically realistic and can explain and predict human behavior and ground a character-based virtue theory. A social-cognitive conception of character would highlight the dynamic role between situations and individual psychological factors like beliefs, values, desires and the way that an individual perceives a situation. I sketch out a non-ideal theory of virtue based in a social-cognitive conception of character that is partially dependent on social networks for its maintenance and is fragmented, or contextualized to particular types of psychological situations. However, fragmented and socially dependent virtue is not an optimal type of virtue because it is vulnerable to situational features that place strong psychological pressures on agents to behave in various ways, including ways they would not have normally endorsed. I agree with Aristotelian virtue ethicists that argue that a type of practical wisdom can help to counter the often unwanted and dangerous influence of these strong situations but also maintain that some measure of moral luck is inevitably involved, even in the development of practical wisdom.

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Date Created
  • 2012