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Attending: An Ethical Art

Warren Heiti, editor read

Attending – patient contemplation focused on a particular being – is a central ethical activity that has not been recognized by any of the main moral systems in the European philosophical tradition. That tradition has imagined that the moral agent is primarily a problem solver and world changer when what might be needed most is a witness.

Moral theory has been agonized by dualism – motivation is analyzed into beliefs and desires, descriptions of facts and dissatisfactions with them, while action is represented as an effort to lessen dissatisfaction by altering the empirical world. In Attending Warren Heiti traces an alternative genealogy of ethics, drawing from the Platonism recovered by Simone Weil and developed in the work of Iris Murdoch, John McDowell, and Jan Zwicky. According to Weil, virtue is knowledge, knowledge is embodied, and the knower is nested in an ecosystem of relationships. Instead of analyzing and solving theoretical problems, Heiti aims to clarify the terrain by setting up objects of attention from more than one discipline, including not only philosophy but also literature, psychology, film, and visual art.

The traditional picture captures one important type of ethical activity: faced with a moral problem, one looks to a general rule to furnish the solution. But not all problems conform to this model. Heiti offers an alternative: to see what is needed, one attends to the particular being.

Warren Heiti is a Professor of philosophy and liberal studies at Vancouver Island University.

McGill-Queen’s University Press, July 15, 2021

A Just and Loving Gaze

Deborah Casewell read

Excerpt: “Weil took no prisoners in any debate. Although Leon Trotsky had recently excoriated her critique of Marxism, Weil arranged for the Marxist revolutionary to stay in her parents’ apartment in December 1933 and host an illicit political gathering. This did, however, come at the expense of a night-long, intense discussion with Weil. While she always argued softly and clearly, that did not prevent the discussion from being punctuated by violent shouts.

That heart that beat across the world is perhaps why she always remained outside contemporary philosophical trends, and certainly outside of the academic and elite conversations in philosophy at the time. Weil’s philosophical commitments, while constant, often pale in comparison with her dramatic life and her political engagement. She enacted her philosophy with her commitment to causes, and finally with her body. This began with her declaration of Bolshevism at the age of 10, through to her university involvement in Marxism, trade unionism and pacificism. The first commitment declined as she found in Marxism itself plenty to criticise, though this did not prevent her from joining the republicans in the Spanish Civil War, albeit rather ineffectively. Yet, through all of this, two elements of her character remained constant: her self-denial for the sake of others, and the strength of her will. . . .”

Deborah Casewell is a Humboldt Research Fellow in philosophy at the University of Bonn and co-director of the UK-based Simone Weil Network. Her most recent book is Eberhard Jüngel and Existence: Being Before the Cross(2021).

Aeon, July 9, 2021

Peter Winch: Unity: Presupposition or Demand?

Peter Winch (Steven Burns trans.) read

This is a translation of a paper which the late Peter Winch wrote in German for a 1987 conference. He deals with fundamental issues in ethics, especially with the Wittgensteinian idea that “primitive reactions” play a crucial role in the formation of moral concepts. It also responds to an important objection, namely that primitive reactions can be as much immoral as moral. Ranging as it does over Winch’s interests in Wittgenstein, Simone Weil, and Plato, the paper can serve as a concise introduction to Winch’s work.

Philosophical Investigations, vol. 44, no. 2, July 9, 2021

The ethical implications of Simone Weil’s Notion of reading

Olwyn Stewart read

In this thesis I develop the ethical implications inherent in a short paper written by Simone Weil, entitled ‘Essay on the Notion of Reading,’ with a view to exploring possible ways in which we are able to incorporate the unconditional value of each and every human being into our everyday apprehension of the world. Mindful of the fact that conceptions of unconditional value tend to be associated with religious belief, I make a distinction between religious theory and practical religious engagement, privileging the latter, in order to show the common ground between theistic and nontheistic ways of understanding unconditional value. My focus is on practical ethics, and the relationship between our direct and immediate ethical responses and their conceptualization plays an important part in my thesis, in tandem with an important distinction between absolute and relative forms of evaluation. The emphasis I place on the relationship between direct responses and their conceptualization is developed in the light of Wittgensteinian philosophical insights, both of Wittgenstein’s own and those of certain other philosophers who employ versions of his method. I also draw on both Platonist and Aristotelian conceptions of virtue, with particular attention to the relationship between our natural ethical responses and the terminology in which they find expression.

The University of Auckland, Ph.D. dissertation (2012).