Appreciation : its nature and role in virtue ethical moral psychology and dialectical moral agency.




Carson, Nathan Paul.

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This dissertation is focused on appreciation and its role in virtue ethical psychology and moral agency. While appreciation is a central concept in aesthetics, I argue that it still needs to play a deeper and more precise role in virtue ethical discussions of moral understanding, experience, and agency. Overall, I contend that close examination of appreciation opens up a compelling dialectical picture of moral agency that is phenomenologically realistic, narratively unified, progressively unfolding and, ideally, marked by wholehearted engagement with morally significant features of reality. In chapter one I clarify the nature of appreciation, arguing (among other things) that appreciation does not always involve pleasure, sometimes displays minimal understanding, and is often an unfolding activity. Overall, I suggest that there are three broad, sometimes incompatible but often overlapping types of appreciation: (1) phenomenal-affective experience, (2) engaged evaluative understanding, and (3) the activity of evaluative attention. I argue that evaluative attention holds particular promise as a unitive principle for a dialectically unfolding conception of appreciative moral agency. In chapter two I import these distinctions into virtue ethics, and argue that through greater clarity and liberality about appreciation, we can identify one type that is fundamental to the moral life, clarify the types that express virtue, and better articulate the relationship between appreciation(s) and ethical wisdom. In chapter three I challenge Talbot Brewer’s Neo-Aristotelian view that virtuous activity appreciation involves full motivational harmony with the activity and supervening pleasure taken in it. A thorough critique of Brewer’s view, partly through cases of appreciative motivational conflict and emotional pain, opens us toward a more realistic and broadly applicable notion of unfolding appreciation as responsively plural, and closely allied with thoughtful evaluative attention. This conception of virtuous appreciating also suggests a new, concerned engagement understanding of wholehearted agency. Finally, in chapter four I examine Iris Murdoch’s notion of moral attention, and develop it as the appreciative activity of evaluative attention that unites developmental appreciative agency. Moving beyond Murdoch, I then articulate the basic elements of such dialectical appreciation as genuinely interactive, perennially unfinished, responsively plural, and a source of formal and personal unity.



Appreciation., Moral agency., Moral understanding., Virtue ethics., Pleasure., Moral perception., Aesthetic experience., Aristotle., Moral psychology., Attention., Evaluative attention., Practical thinking., Murdoch, Iris., Brewer, Talbot., Swanton, Christine, 1947-