Violence and the Language of Virtue: Political Violence, Ethical Discourse, and Moral Transformation Open Access

Wiinikka-Lydon, Joe (2015)

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Some who survive mass violence feel they have done so only by committing acts previously thought to be immoral. This can leave a lasting change in one's moral subjectivity, so much so that survivors often wonder if they can ever be "good" again. This is an issue for many who pass through violence feeling that they are no longer able to live in society, or even that society or the world can no longer be seen as a place where goodness is possible, however goodness is defined. Political violence can undermine the moral intelligibility of one's world, leaving a residue of doubt and even despair about the possibility of a restored moral ability and a world capable of supporting a meaningful moral life. This work focuses on ways that we can better understand experiences where political violence and upheaval transform the self as well as society. New vocabularies are needed to articulate what matters most for those caught in contemporary violent conflicts, as current frames do not capture the high moral stakes involved for individuals. Specifically, we need to draw on the moral languages and philosophical anthropologies found in religious ethics and moral philosophy if we are to do justice to these experiences and the high stakes that are involved. I argue that the language of the virtues, in particular, can help us create a thick representation of the self not just as a subject in the world but primarily as a moral subject for whom experience is best understood as moral development through continuous transformation of one's moral subjectivity. Such a resource is not currently available in most discussions of political violence. Virtue discourse, as I will refer to it, will provide the vocabulary and understanding of the self needed to account for and articulate the experience of political violence. Using Iris Murdoch's moral philosophy, and specifically her representation of moral subjectivity as a "field of tension" and a search for the "Good," I create a critical, interpretive framework to better articulate and account for the felt sense of having lost moral ability through the experience of political violence.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Violence, Self, and Virtue 1

Violence and subjectivity 4

Limitations of current approaches 17

Virtue and the experience of violence 28

Applying Iris Murdoch's moral philosophy 48

Map of the present work 58

Chapter Two: Subjectivity to Moral Subjectivity 62

The subject of subjectivity 64

Elements of subjectivity 68

Limitations of subjectivity 77

Subjectivity and everyday, local moral worlds 81

Subjectivity to moral subjectivity 92

Moving toward virtue 96

Chapter Three: Iris Murdoch's Moral Philosophy 99

Overview of Iris Murdoch's thought 100

Philosophical Anthropology 104

Moral development 108

Murdoch's metaphysics 115

Accounting for vulnerability 122

Chapter Four: The Tensile Moral Subject 132

Modalities of moral subjectivity 135

Ethical modalities and political violence 143

Local moral worlds 148

The tensile moral subject in local moral worlds 159

Chapter Five: Void 172

Reading Murdoch's void 179

Void and extreme violence 189

Chapter Six: Moral subjectivity dominated by void 202

Experiencing void 202

The corrosiveness of political violence to moral subjectivity 209

Vision and vulnerability 215

Chapter Seven: The Untapped Potential of Virtue 224

Political violence, moral violence 227

The moral heart of methodology 232

Significance beyond academia 237

Beyond political violence 240

The subject of character 242

Hope 245

Bibliography 248

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