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In “The Idea of Perfection,” Iris Murdoch – who channels an interesting amalgam of Platonism, socialism, analytical philosophy, the idea of God, virtue ethics, and atheism – explains why progress in the moral life is slow.
Moral change and moral achievement are slow; we are not free in the sense of being able suddenly to alter ourselves since we cannot suddenly alter what we can see and ergo what we desire and are compelled by. In a way, explicit choice seems now less important: less decisive (since much of the ‘decision’ lies elsewhere) and less obviously something to be ‘cultivated’. If I attend properly I will have no choices and this is the ultimate condition to be aimed at. This is in a way the reverse of Hampshire’s picture, where our efforts are supposed to be directed to increasing our freedom by conceptualizing as many different possibilities of action as possible: having as many goods as possible in the shop. The ideal situation, on the contrary, is rather to be represented as a kind of ‘necessity’. This is something of which saints speak and which any artist will readily understand. The idea of a patient, loving regard, directed upon a person, a thing, a situation, presents the will not as unimpeded movement but as something very much more like ‘obedience’ (Existentialists and Mystics, 331).
Moral achievement or advancement is not, contrary to a large portion of the analytical tradition, a result of choice or act of will. It is rather a redirection of the gaze, the focusing of attention on an object, in such a way that choice or volition soon falls to the wayside.