Article by Sigal Samuel: “The idea of moral attention goes back at least as far as ancient Greece, where the Stoics wrote about the practice of attention (prosoché) as the cornerstone of a good spiritual life. In modern Western thought, though, ethicists didn’t focus too much on attention until a band of female philosophers came along, starting with Simone Weil.
Weil, an early 20th-century French philosopher and Christian mystic, wrote that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” She believed that to be able to properly pay attention to someone else — to become fully receptive to their situation in all its complexity — you need to first get your own self out of the way. She called this process “decreation,” and explained: “Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty … ready to receive in its naked truth the object that is to penetrate it.”
Weil argued that plain old attention — the kind you use when reading novels, say, or birdwatching — is a precondition for moral attention, which is a precondition for empathy, which is a precondition for ethical action.
Later philosophers, like Iris Murdoch and Martha Nussbaum, picked up and developed Weil’s ideas. They garbed them in the language of Western philosophy; Murdoch, for example, appeals to Plato as she writes about the need for “unselfing.” But this central idea of “unselfing” or “decreation” is perhaps most reminiscent of Eastern traditions like Buddhism, which has long emphasized the importance of relinquishing our ego and training our attention so we can perceive and respond to others’ needs. It offers tools like mindfulness meditation for doing just that…(More)”