Bridget Clarke’s Dissertation: Aristotle, Iris Murdoch, and the Idea of Moral Perception


When I arrived in the English Department at Williams a few years ago, I was delighted to discover that one of my new colleagues across the way in the Philosophy Department was Bridget Clarke, who had arrived only a couple years before me. Bridget had never heard of me, of course, but I was already very familiar with her name and her work, because I had benefited immensely from reading her excellent dissertation on the notion of moral perception in Aristotle and Iris Murdoch while doing research for my own PhD thesis. I felt very lucky to have her as a colleague for my first couple of years at Williams, but alas, she’s since moved on, and now teaches at the University of Montana. It occurred to me that her dissertation would potentially be of great interest to many readers of this blog, and because I knew that she doesn’t intend to revise and publish it in book form, I decided to write her and ask if we might publish it here. Very happily, she’s agreed. You can read the entire dissertation right here by using the Scribd document viewer below. I thank Bridget for generously permitting us to reproduce her dissertation on this site. Should you wish to correspond with her about her work, you can write her at the following email address: (that’s a zero before the @).

First, here is the abstract for the dissertation:

The Lens of Character: Aristotle, Murdoch, and the Idea of Moral Perception

This dissertation develops an account of moral perception rooted in the writings of Aristotle and Iris Murdoch. The concept of moral perception has been offered in recent years as an alternative to principle-centered accounts of virtue and practical reason. In this context, moral perception designates a reliable sensitivity to moral considerations that is practical and world-guided, yet not reducible to readily applicable principles of conduct. The account I develop makes perspicuous the role normative principles play in guiding the exercise of moral perception without, however, assimilating the perception model to the principle-centered models it opposes. It thereby illuminates how a capacity for moral perception could represent a distinctive and compelling specification of virtue. My analysis rests on a distinction between principles which require something in the way of character for their successful application and principles which do not; I call the former ‘dependent’ principles and the latter ‘independent’ principles. Chapter one argues that the concept of moral perception is best understood as a challenge to the idea that the virtuous person’s outlook is reducible to a set of independent principles of conduct. This leaves plenty of room for dependent principles to inform the virtuous person’s outlook. Chapters two and three defend this way of understanding the concept of moral perception with respect to Aristotle and Murdoch respectively. Chapter four shows how an agent who is guided by dependent principles can nevertheless take a critical stance toward her own moral commitments or those of her society. The end result is an elucidation of the idea that virtue consists in a way of seeing that is at once intelligent and visceral.

Note: a revised version of the dissertation’s final chapter will appear in a collection of essays on Murdoch (edited by Justin Broackes) forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

To download the dissertation as a PDF, please click here, or you can just read the whole thing right here in our Scribd viewer:

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