This thesis explores the role of attention in morality as presented by Iris Murdoch. The aim is to offer a clear and detailed understanding of Murdoch’s concept of attention, its metaphysical presuppositions and its implications for morality, and, if Murdoch’s view as developed here is found to be plausible, to suggest how attention can be considered to play an important role in morality. The moral concept of attention presented in this work involves particular epistemic attitudes and faculties that are meant to enable the subject to apprehend moral reality and thus achieve correct moral understanding and moral responses.
The thesis is divided into three parts. The first part (Chapters 1 and 2), clarifies Murdoch’s metaphysical picture on which the idea of attention is grounded. The metaphysics involves a dual commitment to value as both existing in reality and as a transcendental condition. While the two ideas appear incompatible, I suggest a framework against which Murdoch’s claim that an evaluat ive consciousness apprehends a value external to itself might be understood. The second part introduces Murdoch’s moral psychology, and explores how the faculties, attitudes and character traits related to attention are involved in moral understanding (Chapters 3 and 4). The two parts come together in Chapter 5, which focuses on how the exercise of attention can be understood as enabling moral perception. The last part (Chapters 6 and 7) continues the moral psychological exploration of attention, by focusing on the self, viewed both as interference and as indispensable means in attaining moral understanding.
The analysis of Murdoch’s thought is conducted through close readings of her work, discussions of the secondary literature, as well as by clarifying and developing key points through readings of Simone Weil, from whom Murdoch derives the idea of attention.
Ph.D. dissertation, University of East Anglia School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies Department of Philosophy, September 2015
— Iris Murdoch, “‘Waiting on God’: A Radio Talk on Simone Weil,” Iris Murdoch Review, (2017), pp. 9-16, preface by Justin Broackes, (BBC broadcast, Oct.18, 1951, 7.40 p.m. on the Third Programme)
— Simone Weil, Venice Saved, ed. & trans. by Silvia Panizza & Phillip Wilson, Bloomsbury Academic, 2019