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Shaping Our Moral Identity

Contact: Daniel Vanello

The ‘Shaping Our Moral Identity’ project is the first multidisciplinary investigation in the development of ‘moral identity’ providing a new account of its role in the explanation of moral action. ‘Moral identity’ refers to the way in which one’s learning of moral values shapes one’s sense of who one is, where this sense of moral identity in turn determines moral decisions and behaviour.

The project has two stages. The first stage provides a new philosophical account of ‘moral understanding’. It does so by pursuing two original claims. The first claim is that our conception of moral understanding is informed by our conception of moral learning, and vice versa. If so, then an investigation into what moral understanding is is informed by an investigation into what moral learning is, and vice versa. This gives rise to the second claim according to which our ability to enter affectively-laden, communicative interactions with other people is partly constitutive of moral learning and moral understanding. This stage of my project primarily engages with the works of Raimond Gaita, Bernard Williams and Richard Moran on moral questions such as: what is moral individuality, and what is the role of personal relations in our understanding of the irreplaceability of individuals? How should we conceive “moral understanding” if we want to argue that our emotional engagement with others, instantiated for example in relations of trust, is constitutive of moral learning? How does our conception of moral understanding inform our conception of moral testimony? What does it mean to share a moral outlook, and what is the role of affective relations of reciprocity and mutual recognition in coming to share a moral outlook?

The second stage of the project develops the philosophical lessons of the first stage by asking the question: what is the role of social affective relations in early childhood development in the acquisition of moral understanding, and how does this inform the development of moral identity? I will employ a heavily-loaded interdisciplinary methodology critically assessing both conceptual and empirical studies in disciplines that work under separate headings but that have as a common denominator the conception of infant-caretaker attachment both as the locus of the acquisition of children’s self-understanding and of their understanding of moral value. I will rely in particular on works in developmental psychology -in particular under the “second person” banner-, relational psychoanalysis, attachment theory and related works in developmental psychopathology, by authors such as Donald Winnicott, John Bowlby, Daniel Stern, Ed Tronick, Colwyn Trevarthen, Peter Hobson and Vasu Reddy.

Seminar Series: From Moral Learning to Self-Understanding

January-June 2021

The topic of the seminar series “From Moral Learning to Self-Understanding" is the connection between moral learning and development, and the development of self-related psychological abilities in any of its multitude aspects e.g. self-awareness, self-understanding, self-knowledge, identity, group identity, character, personality, the self in social interaction, the second person approach, just to mention a few.

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