Moral phenomenology has enjoyed a resurgence lately, and within the field, a trend has emerged: uniform rejection of the idea that the experience of making ‘direct’ moral judgments has any phenomenal essence, that is, any phenomenal property or properties that are always present and that distinguish these experiences from experiences of making non-direct-moral judgments. This article examines existing arguments for this anti-essentialism and finds them wanting. While acknowledging that phenomenological reflection is an unstable pursuit, it is maintained here that phenomenological essentialism about a certain domain of direct moral judgment, namely direct judgment of obligation and prohibition, is more credible than has been recognized. The positive proposal is to rehabilitate something close to Maurice Mandelbaum’s essentialism, specifically to maintain that direct moral judgment’s phenomenal essence is arguably its felt categorical demand. The key to making this argument is to assume a ‘rich view’ of moral consciousness, the view that phenomenal features of moral judgment might be present even when they are not attended to. This assumption is controversial, but it is warranted by two considerations. First, though controversial, the rich view is intuitively plausible. Second, it reveals that the existing arguments against the kind of essentialism defended here appear to tacitly presuppose an equally controversial – and arguably less intuitive – rejection of the rich view.
Many hold that ordinary race-thinking in the USA is committed to the 'one-drop rule', that race is ordinarily represented in terms of essences, and that race is ordinarily represented as a biological (phenotype- and/or ancestry-based, non-social) kind. This study investigated the extent to which ordinary race-thinking subscribes to these commitments. It also investigated the relationship between different conceptions of race and racial attitudes. Participants included 449 USA adults who completed an Internet survey. Unlike previous research, conceptions of race were assessed using concrete vignettes. Results indicate widespread rejection of the one-drop rule, as well as the use of a complex combination of ancestral, phenotypic, and social (and, therefore, non-essentialist) criteria for racial classification. No relationship was found between racial attitudes and essentialism, the one-drop rule, or social race-thinking; however, ancestry-based and phenotype-based classification criteria were associated with racial attitudes. These results suggest a complicated relationship between conceptions of race and racial attitudes.