Self‐knowledge and moral stupidity

Ratio 25 (3):291-306 (2012)
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Most commonplace moral failure is not conditioned by evil intentions or the conscious desire to harm or humiliate others. It is more banal and ubiquitous – a form of moral stupidity that gives rise to rationalization, self‐deception, failures of due moral consideration, and the evasion of responsibility. A kind of crude, perception‐distorting self‐absorption, moral stupidity is the cause of many moral missteps; moral development demands the development of self‐knowledge as a way out of moral stupidity. Only once aware of the presence or absence of particular desires and beliefs can an agent have authority over them or exercise responsibility for their absence. But what is the connection between self‐knowledge and moral development? I argue that accounts which construe instances of self‐knowledge as like the verdicts of a judge cannot explain its potential role in moral development, and claim that it must be conceived of in a way that makes possible a process of self‐refinement and self‐regulation. Making use of Buddhist moral psychology, I argue that when self‐knowledge plays a role in moral development, it includes a quality of attention to one's experience best modeled as the work of the craftsperson, not as judge.

Author's Profile

Emer O'Hagan
University of Saskatchewan


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