Communicating Moral Concern
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Communicating Moral Concern

An Ethics of Critical Responsiveness

By Elise Springer

A novel reframing of moral agency, emphasizing the responsive habits and skills by which we engage one another's attention to moral concerns.





A novel reframing of moral agency, emphasizing the responsive habits and skills by which we engage one another's attention to moral concerns.

Modern moral theories have crystallized around the logic of individual choices, abstracted from social and historical context. Yet most action, including moral theorizing, can equally be understood as a response, conscious or otherwise, to the social world out of which it emerges. In this novel account of moral agency, Elise Springer accords central importance to how we intervene in activity around us. To notice and address what others are doing with their moral agency is to exercise what Springer calls critical responsiveness. Her account of this responsiveness steers critics away from both of the conventionally familiar ideals—justifying and expressing reactive attitudes on one hand, and prescribing and manipulating behavioral outcomes on the other. Good critical practice functions instead as a dynamic gestural engagement of attention, reaching further than expressive representation but not as far as causal control.

To make sense of such engagement, Springer unravels the influence of several entrenched philosophical dichotomies (active vs. passive, representation vs. object, illocution vs. perlocution). Where previous accounts have been preoccupied with justified claims or with end results, Springer urges the cultivation of situated critical engagement—an unorthodox virtue. Moral agency can thereby claim a creative and embodied aspect, transforming the world of action through a socially extended process of communicating concern.


$46.00 S | £36.00 ISBN: 9780262018944 340 pp. | 9 in x 6 in 1 figure


  • This is a book everyone interested in ethics should read.

    The Review of Metaphysics


  • In this very thoughtful, clearly argued, and thoroughly original piece of work, Elise Springer manages not only to develop an important theory of moral concern but to demonstrate how individuals can transform each other as moral agents though mutual critical engagement.

    Marion Smiley

    J. P. Morgan Chase Professor of Ethics, Department of Philosophy, Brandeis University

  • This book is simply spectacular. I am stunned by its originality, intellectual sophistication, philosophical maturity, and depth of vision. I learned new things from virtually every page. Philosophers have a huge bias in favor of examining already articulated judgments, and thereby ignore the incredibly difficult and important work of developing an articulation of what is the matter. Elise Springer persuasively argues that this work deserves sustained attention in its own right, and offers new conceptual tools for making sense of what we are doing at that stage.

    Elizabeth Anderson

    John Rawls Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies, University of Michigan

  • This is a tour de force. Springer not only revises the way we should read the historical approaches of how we respond to others, but she also captures the moral-social dimension of virtue.

    Luciana Garbayo

    Department of Philosophy, University of Texas at El Paso