Christopher Cordner speaks about a moral philosophy that engages with everyday stories at the MFU

I was feeling a little off colour yesterday, but before I realised that I should probably use any left over energy to work on my proposal, I was seated in the back room at Dexter’s with a pot of beer for MFU’s I (heart) Philosophy session on morality.

The speaker was Christopher Cordner from Melbourne University, and he grounded his discussion in some key thinkers and what he thinks moral philosophy should be. Clearly he is a skilled teacher and his conviction that moral philosophy should not be about dislodging someone from their convictions has consequences for how he approaches his work even beyond the lecture theatre. For me, the take home point was that Christopher Cordner challenges moral philosophy to make sense to people, through having the potential to return to their every day by engaging with their responses and affections. That such a point is quite controversial and such a position is very challenging was highlighted in the discussion time.

Another challenge highlighted in the discussion time applies to forums such as the MFU more generally. The speaker responded in the affirmative to an assertion that he has given us his ‘opinion’. This was in stark contrast to the speaker on justice the week before who declined to answer a question about what she thinks, explaining that she is rather trying to give us the tools to think about the concept of justice. While I can understand why not everybody would choose to give an account of where they are coming from, as an audience member I find it valuable to gain a glimpse into the ways that people who have considered some of these big ticket issues bring their understanding into day to day life. The opinions of others do not need to provide a map, but their representations can arouse a response and this response is food for thought.

Not everybody has the luxury or inclination to ponder ‘why’ and ‘what if’, and discussions about morality highlight just how many people in many different situations are acutely aware of the contradictions in the world. This is in part why I am quite happy to be posting my musings in a forum such as this blog. Putting down in writing my half baked ideas and reactions in a way that somebody can find through a search engine could be a risk. However, I do not think that keeping this part of me locked away to be unleashed on my data once I have left the field is any more scientific or respectful. Interview participants do not need to resolve my theoretical dilemmas for me, but I like to think I will be able to answer questions about what I will do with the data in a deeper way than simply saying I will write about it in a thesis. After all, if people disagree with my theoretical premises (or with the sort of inaccessible language I might use to describe where I am coming from), my project can only be stronger and I can only learn more from the opportunity to negotiate. In other words, I believe I can be genuine about how I think about the world without preventing other people from being able to think.

I could be rather wrong when it comes to all of this. I can get on with the practicalities of life with very little need for certainty as the easy life I have had means that I do not have any reason to feel threatened by that which I do not understand. However, I know that people are not stupid and I am sort of banking on that in order to be able to get my project done. If my project can go some way towards answering Christopher Cordner’s challenge to speak to people’s experiences through including the stories that are grounded in the everyday, I will feel I have taken a step towards ethical research.


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