Date of Degree
Aesthetics | Epistemology | Ethics and Political Philosophy
Moral testimony, Aesthetic testimony, Assertion, Literature
Suppose you learn that your steak-loving friend has just adopted a vegan diet. You ask her what prompted the change, and she tells you that someone she trusts recently tweeted “Eating meat is immoral.” Your friend’s response is a little disappointing and shallow, but why? Most of our knowledge comes from trusting what other people tell us, so why, when it comes to moral matters, does deference seem inappropriate? Some philosophers think it’s because moral testimony cannot transmit important epistemic goods, like knowledge or understanding. Others think that when people defer to moral testimony, their actions or characters will be less than fully praiseworthy. While these are important observations, neither provide complete explanations. This dissertation argues that in order to fully understand why moral deference is inappropriate, we must recruit an ideal that has largely fallen out of favour in contemporary philosophy, but which retains great cultural currency: personal authenticity.
I articulate an account of authenticity, which I call the Rehabilitated Theory of Authenticity. According to the Rehabilitated Theory, an action is authentic when it is motivated by a reason the agent possesses in virtue of a core class of her cares. In claiming that authenticity is an important component of well-being, I resist some of the prevailing philosophical views about the concept. According to these views, the notion of authenticity rests on implausible assumptions about the self and licenses objectionably relativistic and, even egotistic, moral thinking. While such worries must be taken seriously, they do not speak to essential aspects of our authenticity concept, as opposed to merely contingent features of the way it has been theorized in the past. The Rehabilitated Theory thus gets its name from the fact that it is responsive to worries directed at earlier incarnations of the idea.
In addition to the problem of moral testimony, the Rehabilitated Theory explains several other puzzling phenomena, including the puzzle of aesthetic testimony (that we seem to need to encounter an artwork ourselves to be entitled to beliefs about its aesthetic properties, despite the existence of art critics whose judgements we take to be reliable) and the cognitive triviality of literature (that we often praise literary works for their educative function even though the propositions they communicate are ones we already believe). It also illuminates new connections between types of moral assertion and blame.
Brick, Shannon M., "Recovering Authenticity: Care, Conversation and Value" (2022). CUNY Academic Works.
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