Communicating Moral Concern

Communicating Moral Concern: An Ethics of Critical Responsiveness

Elise Springer
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Communicating Moral Concern
    Book Description:

    Modern moral theories have crystallized around the logic of individual choices, abstracted from social and historical context. Yet most action, including moral theorizing, can equally be understood as a response, conscious or otherwise, to the social world out of which it emerges. In this novel account of moral agency, Elise Springer accords central importance to how we intervene in activity around us. To notice and address what others are doing with their moral agency is to exercise what Springer calls critical responsiveness. Her account of this responsiveness steers critics away from both of the conventionally familiar ideals -- justifying and expressing reactive attitudes on one hand, and prescribing and manipulating behavioral outcomes on the other. Good critical practice functions instead as a dynamic gestural engagement of attention, reaching further than expressive representation but not as far as causal control. To make sense of such engagement, Springer unravels the influence of several entrenched philosophical dichotomies (active vs. passive, representation vs. object, illocution vs. perlocution). Where previous accounts have been preoccupied with justified claims or with end results, Springer urges the cultivation of situated critical engagement -- an unorthodox virtue. Moral agency can thereby claim a creative and embodied aspect, transforming the world of action through a socially extended process of communicating concern.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31403-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Higher-Order Responsiveness: The Social Dimension of Moral Agency
    (pp. 1-38)

    Moral questions arise only among social beings. Without social interaction, or at least its possibility, the notion of morality is empty. Moral theorizing, meanwhile, is a kind ofdoublysocial work. To do moral theory is to devote careful reflection to an ongoing conversation about why and how our social interactions matter. Yet modern moral theories have crystallized around the logic or calculus of individual choices, abstracted from social and historical context. In an effort to systematize what it means totreatone another well, systematic moral philosophers have thus said little about how to notice andengagewith one...

  5. 2 Responsiveness Ain’t in the Head: Recognizing Critical Gesture
    (pp. 39-70)

    Where should we see critical responsiveness at work? The question of this chapter is a normative one, revolving around a “should.” My argument, over the course of this chapter, is that critical responsiveness can and should be recognized in a wide range of activities, far beyond paradigmatic cases of praise and blame. Praise and blame are familiar and apparently typical ways of initiating critical encounters. Yet these loom large in our portrayal of critical activity only because we tend to describe and explain action by reference to individual desires, beliefs, attitudes, and intentions. Exactly such a framework has been taken...

  6. 3 Communicating Moral Concern: The Point of Critical Engagement
    (pp. 71-94)

    Having argued that engaging responsively with one another’s action is morally vital, and that such responsiveness is recognizable in a broad range of activities, we are ready to ask directly about how to conceive the point of critical engagement. The argument here is a normative one; in practice people may clearly have a variety of self-conscious aims when they respond to each other’s actions. Apt forms of responsiveness, however, recognize a goal for engagement that is distinct both from promoting the good (in the form of preconceived outcomes) and from demonstrating the right or true (expressing justified claims or attitudes)....

  7. 4 Dynamics of Engagement: Time, Interaction, and Uptake
    (pp. 95-124)

    This chapter builds on the thesis of chapter 3, that the point of moral criticism is the communicative transfer of moral concern. Our question here is thushowdoes the transfer of moral concern happen, and what skills do we need in order to participate in it? I propose that apt critical engagements involve us in the temporal coordination of attention so that concerns become jointly recognized and translated for practical uptake. For now, our focus will remain on how events unfold within a particular critical encounter. Chapters 5 through 8 consider how we handle our concerns—and how each...

  8. Interlude: From a Modular to a Transformative Account
    (pp. 125-128)

    The second half of this book makes a bolder argument than the first. Hence a brief transitional comment is in order.

    Thus far we have developed a relatively thin and philosophically ecumenical account of critical engagement. The arguments of chapters 2 through 4 remain largely compatible with a wide range of views about the substance of moral norms, the nature of moral reasoning, and the grounds of moral value. Systematic moral theories come in several flavors, each one organizing moral concerns around its distinctive theme. Depending on the theory, a central role attaches to deontological, contractarian, consequentialist, virtue-ethical, or care-ethical...

  9. 5 Unconventional Threads of Communication: The Social Elaboration of Inarticulate Concern
    (pp. 129-162)

    It is one thing to take moral considerations as a familiar and fixed domain, and to argue from there that moral agency entails drawing attention to these considerations as we respond to one another in practice. It is another to take critical responsiveness as a vital dimension of moral life, and to argue from there against treating morality as a fixed and familiar set of considerations. This latter line of thought unites the second half of this book, casting moral responsiveness not simply as a kind of practical module for putting morality into practice, but as a more complex capacity...

  10. 6 Contingency beyond Contagion: A Social Geography of Moral Concerns
    (pp. 163-192)

    As much as moral agency entails bringing our moral concerns to others’ attention, our moral capacities depend on the incoming communication of moral concerns. Responsiveness begins with receptivity, and our occasions for receptivity are shaped by the moral luck of our social locations. We come to appreciate a wide variety of moral concerns in just the same experiential way we come to appreciate a variety of organic life forms or artistic modalities. There is no shortcut past exposure and local exploration, no scheme for mapping out the logical space of all possible moral concerns. Each of us will be troubled,...

  11. 7 The Transformation of Concerns: Economic and Ecological Models
    (pp. 193-214)

    A geography of moral concerns, as described in chapter 6, tracks the social movement of moral concerns against the fabric of our social relationships, allowing us to consider both the paths by which concerns tend to come into our field of attention and the paths they may take in the wake of our handling of them. Yet a geographical description yields at best a very loose orientation—nothing like a prescriptive direction for optimally inhabiting the social space of moral concerns. Nonetheless, it is only when we recognize ourselves as embedded in a geography of concerns that we can begin...

  12. 8 Critical Engagement with Virtue Ethics: An Unconventional Fit
    (pp. 215-258)

    This last substantive chapter takes up the question whether, how, and with what complications we might appeal to virtue ethics in illuminating critical engagement. Virtue ethics is often cited as a third major moral framework worth setting in contrast to consequentialist and deontological theories. I argued in chapter 1 that the philosophical obstacles to thinking clearly about higher-order responsiveness would require arguments and concepts that virtue ethics itself could not supply. Yet the relation between virtue ethics and critical practice remains to be explored; it is both promising and unsettling.

    The first section of this chapter sets out reasons for...

  13. Concluding Reflections
    (pp. 259-266)

    The central claim running through this book has been that critical engagement with one another’s activity is a morally essential and pervasive dimension of agency. Overt articulations of moral judgment represent only the most obvious face of critical engagement, and even such articulations figure pivotally in moral life not so much in virtue of the claims they stake out but rather in virtue of their practical and gestural role in social encounters. If critical responsiveness marks our capacity for genuinely social moral engagement, we should conceive its central aim as the communication of moral concern.

    To reflect in any sustained...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 267-292)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 293-306)
  16. Index
    (pp. 307-330)