Alan Saunders Memorial Lecture 2017 - Nancy Sherman                          


Contemporary and Ancient Lessons on Moral Injury and Healing 

 Hear Nancy on 'The Philosopher's Zone' Sunday 25 June 2017

The notion of moral injury has gained attention in the popular press and research and clinical literature on the psychological wounds of war. And this is all to the good.  For post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, understood traditionally, as a conditioned fear response to danger and life threat just doesn’t capture the moral dimensions of psychological anguish many service members and veterans experience in and after deployments at home and abroad.  Nor does it capture the weighty sense of personal and moral responsibility so central to military training and its induction of members into a cadre whose ethos is to serve others and causes larger than self.  But by and large, philosophers have not weighed in on the debate.  In this talk I outline a philosophical view of moral injury and the emotions expressive of it and moral repair. They include the familiar “reactive attitudes” of guilt, shame, resentment, and forgiveness, but also, crucially, moral disappointment, hope, and compassionate self-empathy. 

This talk draws on my recent book, Afterwar.   Central to the book are the voices and stories of service men and women whom I came to know well through in-depth interviews, some spanning the course of many years. In this talk, as in the book, and in much of my work, I listen to contemporary voices with an ear always also open to the guidance of the ancients, whether Aristotle, Plato, Seneca, or Sophocles. Here, it is worth remembering that Sophocles was not only a great tragedian, but a Greek general. And plays like Ajax and Philoctetes were homecoming rituals for a nation trying to heal from endless war. 

Nancy Sherman is University Professor and Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. She has affiliate appointments at the Centre on National Security and the Law at Georgetown University Law Centre and at Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics.

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