Does Direct Moral Judgment Have a Phenomenal Essence?

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy

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.

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  • 5

     See (Mandelbaum 1955, 57) for discussion of a similar case.

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