Violence and the Language of Virtue: Political Violence, Ethical Discourse, and Moral Transformation Restricted; Files Only

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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