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On Moral Understanding

Citation: Levy, David (2008) On Moral Understanding. Doctoral thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

I provide an explanation of moral understanding. I begin by describing decisions, especially moral ones. I detail ways in which deviations from an ideal of decision-making occur. I link deviations to characteristic critical judgments, e.g. being cavalier, banal, courageous, etc. Moral judgments are among these and carry a particular personal gravity. The question I entertain in following chapters is: how do they carry this gravity? In answering the question, I try “external” accounts of moral understanding. I distinguish between the ideas of a person and a life. The idea of a life essayed is of a network of relations to others. The character of those relations, e.g. friendship, is the object of our understanding of ourselves and our lives. I argue that one’s understanding of oneself conditions the context of decision-making. I elaborate one way of making moral understanding answerable to truth using Plato’s metaphysics in the Philebus. Truth is valued and truth is essential to the independence of the moral such that seeming right and being right are distinct. However, truth is neither primary nor exhaustive of morality, because we have additional distinct resources for morally judging others. I turn instead to an “internal” account of moral understanding to answer the question regarding the personal gravity of moral criticism. Using Winch’s work on universalizability and fellowship, I argue that our conception of others must be sufficient to reflect their individuality within our moral understanding. Second, using Gaita’s work on remorse and the lucidity of self-reflection, I argue that the truth about ourselves and the wrong we do others can arrest and constrain our moral understanding and our authority. Moral understanding operates in a social milieu: argument, conversation and rationality. Arguments are grounded in meanings with primary (shared) sense, but solicit agreement in secondary sense—of what is similar, of what follows. Meaning in the secondary sense can be necessarily practical, creating practical necessities within points of view. Accounting for the consequences and understanding of disagreement is identified as pressing. An original contribution is the idea of critical authority. One’s articulation of moral meaning is controlled via the critical authority expressed using critical vocabulary. Accepting another ’s critical authority is based, in differing domains, on our relation to them, e.g. friendship, trust, fellowship. The nature of inter-personal relations are delimited by the critical authority characteristic of those relations. Critical authority explains the independent and personal force of moral criticism. To be intelligible depends on accepting some critical authorities, though I allow for the intelligible repudiation of morality in some circumstances. Wronging someone is explained as denying his critical authority, thus denying his relation to oneself, and thereby undermining his place in the moral world. The consequence of wrongdoing is the disintegration of the moral world. I defend against Nagel’s realism and Korsgaard’s constructivism. Both are committed to judging individuals but their accounts of morality undermine the intelligibility of the personal gravity of moral criticism. Developing the idea of Moral Consensus, I defend myself against the related charge of relativism.Ethics

Creators: Levy, David and
Subjects: Philosophy
Keywords: Morality, Ethics, Moral Philosophy, Moral Understanding, Criticism, Authority, Winch, Gaita, Philebus, Lives, Decision-Making
Divisions: Institute of Philosophy
Collections: Theses and Dissertations
London Philosophy PhD Theses
  • 25 February 2008 (published)
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