Moral reflection

Ransome, William, 1976- (2004). Moral reflection PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Ransome, William, 1976-
Thesis Title Moral reflection
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2004
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Damian Cox
Total pages 259
Collection year 2004
Language eng
Subjects L
440110 Social Philosophy
780199 Other
Formatted abstract

In this thesis I develop an account of a particular kind of virtue, which I call moral reflectiveness. I claim that the virtue of moral reflectiveness has been under-appreciated throughout much of the history of philosophical ethics, and in support of this claim I examine the role it plays - or fails to play - in the philosophies of Socrates, Aristotle and Kant. The thesis falls broadly into two parts. In the first part I develop an account of the virtue of moral reflectiveness and what it means to take it seriously as a virtue. In the second part I examine the philosophy of Socrates, Aristotle and Kant respectively. All three exhibit some awareness of the importance of moral reflectiveness, but 1 argue that each fails to fully acknowledge or take this virtue seriously. 


Initially, I develop an account of virtues and set out what it means to take virtues seriously: it is to attribute to them irreducible moral worth. I offer a dispositional account of the psychological nature of the virtues based on Linda Zagzebski (1996), and critically examine Michael Slote's agent-based theory (1997, 2001). I then examine the nature of moral reflection and present an account of the associated virtue: moral reflectiveness. Moral reflection is the critical, interrogative examination of one's own moral experiences, and moral reflectiveness is a genuine commitment to lucidity about one's own moral experience, including the strong disposition to engage in moral reflection. 1 argue that moral reflectiveness is a genuine virtue, employing to this end my prior    account of virtues. Moral reflectiveness, 1 argue, ought to be taken seriously as an intrinsically valuable state in any satisfactory moral theory. 


The remainder of the thesis is devoted to examining the role that moral reflectiveness plays in the philosophies of Socrates, Aristotle and Kant. I make a close study of Socrates' claim at 38a in Plato's Apology of Socrates that an unexamined life (more accurately translated as "a life without examination") is not worth living. This claim is traditionally interpreted as an exhortation to live a morally reflective life, but I argue that this interpretation is mistaken. I argue that moral reflectiveness is not the defining or central element of Socrates' ethical outlook, as it at first appears. I next examine the role of moral reflectiveness in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. The centrality of practical wisdom (phronesis) in Aristotle's account raises the expectation that for Aristotle lucidity about one's past moral experience is vitally important, and that moral reflectiveness will be recognised and accorded its full value. However, I argue that this expectation is unfulfilled: Aristotle too fails to acknowledge or make room for moral reflectiveness. Lastly I inquire into the place of moral reflectiveness in Immanuel Kant's ethics. I highlight Kant's 'First Command of All Duties to Oneself to know yourself in his Doctrine of Virtue (Tugendlehre) at 441, which I argue is an exhortation to moral reflectiveness. I conclude, however, that although moral reflectiveness emerges clearly in Kant's work, he ultimately fails to accord it full value: on his theory, neither moral reflectiveness nor the moral lucidity it seeks can be accorded intrinsic worth. Moral reflectiveness, I conclude, is an important virtue and one that ought to be taken seriously in any satisfactory account of a morally good life. It is, however, an under-appreciated virtue.

Keyword Ethics

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
Citation counts: Google Scholar Search Google Scholar
Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:26:14 EST