On Value, Askesis, and the Good

Ante Jeroncic (Religion)

Iris Murdoch’s ‘Forest’: On Value, Askesis, and the Good

Even a scant acquaintance with current cultural and philosophical trends will readily point to a widespread predilection for subjectivist forms of moral reasoning. By “subjectivist” I refer to various non-cognitivist and constructionist paradigms in moral philosophy and popular parlance that reduce ethical statements to expressions of individual or collective preferences, feelings, or prejudices stripped of any object-given normativity. The following are but some of the factors that fuel such prevalent sentiments: first, the proverbial fact/value dichotomy and anti-realist sentiments pervading large swaths of analytic philosophy; second, the various poststructuralist and postcolonial “genealogies” that tie the language of morality to discourses of power, patriarchy, and totalitarian agency; and third, the political right’s monopolization of the language of “virtue,” “values,” and “moral clarity” as a proxy for a specific set of domestic and foreign policy commitments. The conventional presumption informing such misgivings, therefore, is that the quest for moral objectivism is either impossible or exclusionary, or perhaps both. While I am sympathetic to many of the underlying motives for such reservations, I will argue that such rejections of moral objectivism are both substantively misguided and potentially perilous. The argument itself will come in two stages. I will first defend the claim that moral values are propositions about mind-independent reality by advocating a form of naturalist cognitivism enunciated through my critical engagement with Iris Murdoch’s “metaphysics of morals.” Subsequently, I will show how such an objectivist account of value is essential to the kind of theological humanism I wish to articulate.

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