British Constitution
The Sovereignty of Good

Attention

This summer I preached a sermon series inspired by the poetry of Mary Oliver.  One of the key features of the spiritual life Oliver recommends is paying attention.

So I enjoyed reading Iris Murdoch advocating attention as key to the moral life in her essay "The Idea of Perfection."  Here are some excerpts of her essay:

I have used the word 'attention,' which I borrow from Simone Weil, to express the idea of a just and loving gaze directed upon an individual reality. I believe this to be the characteristic and proper mark of the active moral agent.

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But if we consider what the work of attention is like, how continuously it goes on, and how imperceptibly it builds up structures of value round about us, we shall not be surprised that at crucial moments of choice most of the business of choosing is  already over.  This does not imply that we are not free, certainly not.  But it implies that the exercise of our freedom is a small piecemeal business which goes on all the time and not a grandiose leaping about unimpeded at important moments.

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But I would suggest that at the level of serious common sense and of an ordinary non-philosophical reflection about the nature of morals it is perfectly obvious that goodness is connected with knowledge: not with impersonal quasi-scientific knowledge of the ordinary world, whatever that may be, but with a refined and honest perception of what is really the case, a patient and just discernment and exploration of what confronts one, which is the result not simply of opening one's eyes but of a certainly perfectly familiar kind of moral discipline.

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