… just as logic … penetrates all thought … an ethical spirit, an attitude to the world and life, can penetrate any thought or talk. … the contrast I want is that between ethics conceived as a sphere of discourse among others in contrast with ethics tied to everything there is or can be, the world as a whole, life.
Cora Diamond ‘Ethics, Imagination and the Method of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus’
In work stretching over more than four decades Cora Diamond has issued fundamental challenges to the working assumptions of most Anglo-American moral philosophy, and has painted an alternative picture on a large and brilliant canvas. She has argued that morality is not defined by principles that pick out empirical properties of people and situations (the ‘morally relevant’ ones), properties we can ascertain independently of our moral responses and use to justify them. Thus, for example, we cannot argue that animals (or the handicapped, or women or some human group) should be treated better because, like us, they are sentient – because, she maintains, the appeal to sentience depends for whatever force it has upon a recognizable moral responsiveness already being in place: we don’t care about animals or people because we care about their sentience – we care about their sentience because we care about them. For Diamond, morality arises from an imaginative responsiveness to the world, especially of course to human beings. That responsiveness is a spirit in which one lives and that pervades everything one does, even when the subject-matter of one’s attention is far removed from overtly moral questions of ought and ought not, of right and wrong, and so on. One can, for example, meet the world in a generous and expansive spirit or in grudging and cynical one, and this partly conditions our sense of what human beings are, what demands they make of us, and so on. This general picture has radical consequences, explored in much of Diamond’s work. For one thing, the familiar moral properties such as sentience, rationality, flourishing and so on, turn out to be ‘thick’ moral concepts, as do ‘human being’, ‘child’, ‘animal’ and many others. For another, moral thought is not exclusively a matter of logical argumentation, but also, and crucially, of educating and exploring a broader and subtler kind of intelligent sensibility, the sort of sensibility exhibited in good literature. There are many others. Her explorations of them are united by the ‘realistic spirit’ she champions – not a meta-ethical doctrine (like standard ‘moral realism’) but itself a first-order moral attitude, a hard-headed determination to pay close attention to actual moral life and experience, and to resist the seductive generalizations of moral theorizing.
The depth of Diamond’s challenge to moral philosophy has not always been appreciated. Too often it has been misunderstood or just ignored. To redress this, as the highlight of her 2016 Australian visit, philosophers will gather at Flinders University in July for a conference in her honour. They will attempt to elucidate and assess that challenge, and to develop it in new ways.
A detailed program with paper titles will be distributed closer to the event.
If you would also like to attend the dinner, which will be held on the evening of Monday 18, please mark this on the registration form.
Without notification, we cannot guarantee you a place.
|Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law||Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities|