Why attention matters for morality

Lessons from Simone Weil and Iris Murdoch

Morality has become dominated by talk of ‘concepts’, principles, well-being and virtue. But these notions leave out key detail. If we are to have any deep understanding of morality, we must re-centre our focus on ‘attention’. By looking back to the works of William James, Simone Weil and Iris Murdoch, argues Elisa Magrì, we can chart an ethical framework that reshapes our mental landscape and provides us with meaning.  

 

In Principles of Psychology (1890), William James, one of the most influential philosophers and pragmatists of the 19th century, wrote that “an education which should improve this faculty [of attention] would be the education par excellence.

Working in the aftermath of Wilhelm Wundt, a father of modern psychology, and his studies on attention, James explored the different ways that we deploy attention to direct our will to objects and actions. To this end, James distinguished

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