Moral blindness

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Moral blindness is a state of unawareness or insensibility to moral issues pertaining both to oneself and to one's relations to others. George Eliot considered that "We are all of us born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves".[1] Healthy development leads away from early egotism to produce greater levels of awareness,[2] leading to degrees of what Abraham Maslow called "lesser blindness".[3]

Critics question whether "moral blindness" is ever more than a useful weapon of debate with which to charge one's opponents.[4]

Philosophical views[edit]

Philosophically, moral blindness has been explored from Plato's tyrant onwards, through Epitectus and Kant, but came into full prominence with Ethical intuitionism.[5] Figures like G. E. Moore argued for a "direct moral awareness"[6] and saw moral blindness as the equivalent of colour blindness.[7]

Developmental views[edit]

Melanie Klein saw early development in terms of the child slowly emerging from a state of narcissistic blindness to recognise the motherer as a moral end in herself, not simply as the child's means or tool—a step she called the depressive position.[8] D. W. Winnicott similarly saw the infant as moving from pre-truth to truth from an unconcerned use of the mother to concerned usage.[9]

Postmodern amplifications[edit]

Zygmunt Bauman considers certain features of 21st century society to actively promote moral blindness. A valorisation of commodities as ephemeral and exchangeable combines with the effect of internet anonymity to create a culture that tends to ignore of the particularity of the individual.[10] Equally pernicious is the extension of a calculus of gain over ever-wider areas of life, to the exclusion of moral evaluation[11]—the unchallenged moral blindness of the market.[12]

Literary analogies[edit]

  • Dante has been interpreted as showing vices leading to moral blindness, virtues to moral imagination.[13]
  • Iain M. Banks wrote of "the moral equivalent of black holes, where the normal laws—the rules of right and wrong that people imagine apply everywhere else in the universe—break down".[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ George Eliot, Middlemarch (1974) p. 243
  2. ^ R. Skynner/J. Cleese, Life and how to survive it (1994) p. 241
  3. ^ J. Loevinger, Ego Development (1976) p. 418
  4. ^ A. Edel, Ethical Judgement (1955) p. 188
  5. ^ A. Edel, Moral Judgement (1955) p. 189
  6. ^ I. Ousby ed., The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (1995) p. 645
  7. ^ A. Edel, Moral Judgement (1955) p. 198
  8. ^ A. Phillips, On Flirtation (1994) p. 62
  9. ^ P. Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (1997) p. 98
  10. ^ Z. Bauman/L. Doaskis, Moral Blindness (2014) p. 11-5
  11. ^ Z. Bauman/L. Doaskis, Moral Blindness (2014) p. 16 and p. 41
  12. ^ S. Best, A Beginner's Guide to Social Theory (2003) p. 243
  13. ^ Bill Pucka, Moral Development (1994) p. 67
  14. ^ Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons (1990) p. 261

Further reading[edit]

  • Bauman Z, Donskis L Moral Blindness: The Loss of Sensitivity in Liquid Modernity (2013)