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An Aesthetic Approach to Moral Development Towards an Alternative to Principle-Based Moral Theories

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Title: An Aesthetic Approach to Moral Development Towards an Alternative to Principle-Based Moral Theories


1
An Aesthetic Approach to Moral
DevelopmentTowards an Alternative to
Principle-Based Moral Theories
  • Jennifer Cole WrightUniversity of
    Wyomingnarvik_at_uwyo.edu
  • AME 2004 Conference
  • Dana Point, CA

2
An Account of Moral Excellence
  • Philosophically speaking, any adequate account of
    ethics must tell us in what moral excellence
    consists.
  • Psychologically speaking, any adequate account of
    moral psychology/moral development must tell us
    how it is that we achieve moral excellence.
  • Moral excellence is the ability to achieve
    mature moral judgments and actions.
  • Mature moral judgments and actions are those
    judgments and actions that are morally
    appropriate to the situations they are judgments
    of and actions in response to.

3
I. Principle-Based Moral Theories
  • Principle-based moral theories (typically
    deontological and consequentialist) are those
    moral theories that locate the maturity of moral
    judgments and actions in their conformity to a
    certain specified moral principle(s).
  • Such conformity can be achieved in one (or both)
    of two ways
  • Moral guidance moral principles guide us to
    mature moral judgments and actions
  • Normative authority moral principles justify
    moral judgments and actions as mature
  • So, for principle-based moral theories, the
    development of moral maturity is a movement
    towards conformity (in the form of principled
    deliberation and/or justification) to moral
    principles.

4
II. Problem with Moral Principles
  • Moral Principles come in two basic forms
  • Concrete principles context-free, simple,
    inflexible rules that contain specific,
    unambiguous action guidance (e.g. Always keep
    your promise or Never lie)
  • Abstract principles abstract, orienting rules
    that do not contain specific, unambiguous action
    guidance (e.g. Always uphold justice or
    Maximize utility)
  • Problem Both types of principles seem to fail to
    map onto the appropriateness of moral judgment
    and action in particular situations. That is,
    they seem to fail to either produce or identify
    (i.e. justify) mature moral judgments and
    actions. Why?

5
  • Concrete principles are too rigid.
  • They do not give us the means necessary to adapt
    our judgments and actions to accommodate the
    details of particular situations (e.g. Never
    lie).
  • Abstract principles are too ambiguous.
  • They do not give us the means necessary to
    identify what judgments to have or actions to
    perform in particular situations (e.g. Maximize
    utility).
  • Conclusion Moral maturity is not achieved
    through conformity to moral principles. So then,
    how is it achieved?

6
III. Dreyfus Account of Expertise
  • Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus model of expertise
    provides an alternative developmental account of
    moral maturity.
  • Their model suggests that principles play only a
    circumscribed role in moral development. Contra
    Kohlberg (and principle-based moral theories),
    principles are not the deliberative end point of
    maturity.
  • Moral development is a movement away from, rather
    than towards, moral judgments and actions
    guided/justified by principles.

7
General account of expertise
  • Five developmental stages that progress from
    novice to expert in various skill domains (e.g.
    chess, martial arts, driving, nursing, and so
    on).
  • Principles are introduced early in development as
    basic rules that identify features recognizable
    without the benefit of experience
  • (e.g. chess rule always exchange if the total
    value of pieces captured exceeds value of pieces
    lost).
  • Reliance on such rules is gradually replaced with
    procedural knowledge (i.e. know-how) gained
    through experience. Such knowledge leads to
    intuitive responsiveness.
  • Intuitive responsiveness is the hallmark of
    expertise generally. It enables rapid, automatic,
    effortless responses to particular environmental
    contingencies. Importantly, such responsiveness
    is also reliably appropriate this is what makes
    an expert an expert.

8
  • Intuitive responsiveness (or know-how)
  • must be more than the internalization of the
    originally externally introduced rules.
  • rather, it involves the ability to rapidly
    perceive, identify, understand, and respond to
    relevant patterns of environmental features
    encountered in a given domain.
  • the development of intuitive responsiveness (or
    know-how) replaces rule-guided behavior.
  • For experts, perceiving and responding
    appropriately are interconnected.
  • That is, there are few deliberative pauses
    between what one perceives and what one does
    rather, it is as if they are two aspects of the
    same activity.
  • Importantly, this interconnection of perception
    and action comes without degradation of
    performance novices can also act without
    deliberation, but this will likely lead to
    failure.

9
  • As one expert martial artist relates
  • There is no choosing. It happens unconsciously,
    automatically, naturally. There can be no
    thought, because if there is thought, there is a
    time of thought and that means a flawIf you take
    the time to think I must use this or that
    technique you will be struck while you are
    thinking.

10
  • Some other examples might help. Consider
  • the professional ski racer who knows precisely
    how to adjust her posture to bring herself
    quickly around a steep turn
  • the concert pianist who moves his fingers move
    skillfully across the keys
  • the master chess player who can play 5-10
    second/move games without significant degradation
    in her performance
  • the Native American scout whose senses are
    attuned to his environment so that he can detect
    what manner of man or animal is (or was) present
  • so, too, might the morally mature person come to
    simply see the moral relevance of particular
    situations and judge and act accordingly

11
Two key elements
  • If moral excellence is a skill one can become an
    expert in, then it must involve the development
    of two keys elements
  • Moral know-how
  • Moral sensitivity

12
IV. Deweys Account of Moral Character (Know-how)
  • Know-how in the moral domain develops through the
    cultivation of moral character.
  • Dewey argues for the importance of habit for the
    development of moral character. Defining
    character as the interpenetration of habits.
    He writes
  • we are given to thinking of a habit as simply a
    recurrent external mode of actionbut habit
    reaches even more significantly down into the
    very structure of the self it signifies a
    building up and solidifying of certain desires
    an increased sensitiveness and responsiveness to
    certain stimuli, a confirmed or an impaired
    capacity to attend to and think about certain
    things. (emphasis added)

13
  • The cultivation of habits has an essentially
    moral significance it is the process by which
    dispositions to reliably act in/respond to the
    world (i.e. character) are formed. Thus, habitual
    practice is the process by which the link between
    perception and action is forged.
  • Habitual practice leads to the development of
    know-how the ability to quickly grasp the
    meaning of particular patterns of environmental
    features, to adapt spontaneously to often
    completely novel environmental contingencies, and
    to respond appropriately.

14
IV. The Aesthetics of Moral Maturity (Sensitivity)
  • Moral expertise relies on a developed sensitivity
    that is similar to an aesthetic sensitivity in
    the following ways
  • Our understanding of the needs and appreciation
    for the well-being of others and ourselves is
    akin to an aesthetic appreciation a
    recognition of beauty and ugliness in conduct
    (Dewey) in which we feel ourselves attracted or
    repulsed to, sympathetic or condemning of, the
    life situations of others.
  • Iris Murdoch the primary function of art (and
    morality) is unselfing
  • a distancing from ones immediate
    needs/fears/desires
  • direct engagement of task
  • egoless perception
  • Dewey aesthetics is not a subject matter, but
    rather a method. That is, it constitutes a
    particular way of living, a particular approach
    to our lived experience.

15
VI. Developmental Implications
  • Morality, like aesthetics, is not a subject
    matter to be taught, but rather it is a method (a
    way of thinking about, feeling, experiencing, and
    approaching the world) to be cultivated.
  • While such cultivation may begin with moral
    principles, in the end such principles must be
    set aside.
  • Dreyfus writes, Like the training wheels on a
    childs first bicyclerules allow the
    accumulation of experience, but soon they must be
    put aside to proceed.

16
  • Children must understand their daily social and
    personal activities as a constant engagement in
    moral practice that is, we need to conceive of
    morality as a skill that one is continuously
    practicing and perfecting.
  • In this sense, moral engagement is a life
    practice that involves
  • Quality of Consciousness Children must be given
    opportunities to cultivate mindfulness.
  • There must be opportunity to develop
    social/emotional acuity, discernment, and
    conscientious awareness of oneself and ones
    manner in relationship to (and with) others.
  • There must also be opportunities for the practice
    of un-selfing learning to see things as they
    are, not as we want them to be.

17
  • Direct Feedback There must be a direct feed-back
    loop that is initially externally imposed, but
    becomes internally driven.
  • By this, I do not mean the internalization of
    rules, but rather the linking of judgment and
    action that occurs through the development of
    know-how (moral character).
  • Modeling/Mentoring Children cannot do as we
    say, but not as we do.
  • Moral development requires the presence of moral
    models and mentors and by this, I mean the
    presence of exemplars (and better yet,
    communities of exemplars).
  • More than this, morality requires a cultural,
    social, and physical environment that is
    conducive to its development.
  • Thus, we must ask ourselves the question Are our
    lifestyles currently conducive to the cultivation
    of moral maturity? Do our cultural/social/physical
    environments reflect back to us the kinds of
    people we want our children to be and the kinds
    of lives we want them to live?

18
VII. Conclusion
  • In the expertise model of moral development,
    moral principles take on a new role. The
    development of moral maturity is the development
    of a rich capacity for moral engagement that
    surpasses what any principle based system can
    articulate.
  • At best, moral principles are descriptive of
    moral maturity they are no longer prescriptive.
  • Moral principles are analogous to the tips one
    finds in books on chess when first taking up the
    game. Such tips are attempts to distill the
    knowledge possessed by chess masters into a set
    of basic rules. As helpful as these rules are to
    the beginner, it would be a mistake to think that
    the games played by masters are guided by them
    explicitly or otherwise.

19
  • As Philip Kapleau writes (in the context of Zen
    Buddhism)
  • Remember, the principles are not moral
    commandmentsRather they reveal how a deeply
    enlightened, fully perfected personbehaves. Such
    an individual doesnt imitate the principles
    they imitate him. (emphasis added)
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