The Moral Import of How We Speak

Thoughts on Conviction 3:
It is Critical to Maintain Faith in People's Potential for Good

By Megan J. Laverty

With its third core conviction, “that it is critical to maintain faith in people’s potential for good,” the Ikeda Center asks us to consider the epistemic and moral import of how we speak about people in everyday conversations. Maintaining faith in people’s potential for good is to recognize that we must remain open to the-yet-to-be-discovered-ways for us to be good. The British novelist and philosopher, Iris Murdoch, writes that, within the progressing life of an individual, words are both “instruments and symptoms of learning” (The Sovereignty of Good, p. 32). They are symptoms of learning because they reflect an individual’s deepening conceptual understanding. They can be instruments of learning when they move an individual towards ‘seeing more” and to setting up a different world. Maintaining our faith in people’s potential for goodness involves using ordinary words as instruments of learning. Put differently, we describe others as sweet, considerate, playful, tactful, courageous, dignified and generous in an effort to discover what these words really mean.

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Megan Laverty is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her publications include Iris Murdoch's Ethics: A Consideration of Her Romantic Vision (New York & London: Continuum Press, 2007).

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