Theology and Philosophy

Dr Melissa McBay Merritt - 7 October

Respect, Love, and Individuals: Murdoch as a Guide to Kantian Ethics


I reconsider the relation between love and respect in Kantian ethics, taking as my guide Iris Murdoch’s view of love as the fundamental moral attitude and a kind of attention to individuals.  It is widely supposed that Kantian ethics disregards individuals, since we don’t respect individuals but the universal quality of personhood they instantiate.  We need not draw this conclusion if we recognise that Kant and Murdoch share a view about the centrality of love to virtue.  We can then see that respect in the virtuous person cannot be blind to the individual, as critics of Kantian ethics contend.  My approach contrasts recent efforts (Velleman and Bagnoli) to assimilate Kantian respect to Murdochian love, which overlook Murdoch’s distinctive claims about the singularity of moral activity.  This idea is not as un-Kantian as it seems, and it should inform any Kantian ethics that aims to address the charge about individuals.


Dr Melissa McBay Merritt is a senior lecturer at the School of Humanities & Languages at the University of New South Wales.