Deontic moral experience
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This dissertation concerns deontic moral experience, especially guilt. I follow Gabriele Taylor’s view that when feeling guilty, one represents oneself as having violated one’s obligations and as being stained by that violation. On the basis of this view of guilt, I develop several claims in metaethics and normative ethics. I first debunk G.E.M. Anscombe’s genealogical attack on the intelligibility of deontic concepts in secular moral philosophy: that guilt, an emotion partly constituted by deontic concepts, is present outside the Abrahamic Occident is evidence that the deontic moral concepts are intelligible without a religious background. I then defend the intelligibility of deontic concept directly, showing how the British Intuitionists explained the content of a simple concept like ought without defining it. Second, I argue that given that the notion of wrongdoing is constitutive of guilt, normative ethicists must be careful about what they say about rightness and wrongness lest they sow chronic guilt in those who accept their theories. I claim that this is a special problem for consequentialists and that Peter Railton and Derek Parfit’s notion of blameless wrongdoing does not solve it. Rather, a distinction must be made between what is right all things considered (maximization in every action) and what is one’s duty (cultivating maximizing character traits, etc.). Third, I argue that guilt holds the key to explaining what T.M. Scanlon has called the priority and importance of moral obligations vis-à-vis nonmoral reasons. I defend Taylor’s moral staining view of guilt and use it to show how moral stains ground the priority and importance of moral obligations. To explain moral stains, I turn to Christine Korsgaard’s view that our actions are constitutive of our personal identities. Finally, in my last chapter, I elaborate on the connection between guilt, personal identity, and despair through a study of Søren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death.