Fri Apr 20, 2018
141 Boalt Hall, 12–3:15 PM
|Workshop in Law, Philosophy, and Political Theory
Meena Krishnamurthy (University of Michigan)
According to Socrates and Aristotle, we fail to do what is right because we lack propositional moral knowledge – knowledge that an action is morally required and thereby what we ought to do. In contrast, David Hume and Adam Smith argue that moral inaction occurs when we lack the right sorts of emotions and desires. I argue that Martin Luther King Jr. offers a position that differs from what philosophers have standardly offered as a model of how moral motivation works. King believed that people fail to do what is right not merely because they lack propositional knowledge but also because they lack phenomenal moral knowledge – knowledge of what it is like to be victimized by a particular wrong. King believed that without this knowledge the right sort of emotions and desires that are needed for moral motivation are unlikely to be activated. The strength of King’s view is that it ties together what is right in both of the first two theories and establishes a coherent theory of moral motivation. Furthermore, few philosophers have considered the question of how moral motivation works in relation to the sustained fight against racial injustice during the mid-twentieth century. The key insight of King’s work – and that is also relevant to those working outside of philosophy – is that white Americans will be more motivated to join the fight against racism if they can come to know what it is like to be victimized by racism.