“Moral Development and Moral Failure” Conference

Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, Ireland

20 – 21 October 2023


*** Call for abstracts ***


Conference Theme

The twin issues of Moral Development and Moral Failure have been at the core of philosophical reflection on ethics at least since Socrates. Following the Athenian philosopher, the Stoics, St. Augustine, Kant, and many others to our own day, have asked why human beings do wrongs knowingly and how it is that we come to an understanding to distinguish right from wrong.

The question of moral development concerns fundamental themes of both moral education and moral anthropology. Is the human being ‘by nature evil’ as Kant would claim or, from a more Rousseauean point of view, is the goal of moral education to nurture the innate goodness of the human being? Furthermore, to what extent is the understanding of moral development guided by presuppositions about moral reasoning that may be biased in cultural, gender or other terms? Moral development has historically been closely tied to religious claims about human nature and destiny. Can we set those claims aside within a secular context or is the relation of moral development and religion still significant?

The phenomenology of moral choice confronts us necessarily with the reality of wrong-doing. Free choice seems to imply the possibility of conscious wrong-doing, yet the motivation of such choice is a matter of contention since earliest reflections on the topic. The Genesis myth suggests a transcendent source of temptation, while Socratic and Stoic accounts stress ignorance as the cause of wrong-doing. Yet, the situation of moral choice is not always a straightforward one. Are there instances in which moral failure is inevitable such as in moral dilemmas that the demands of morality are impossible to meet? A fundamental principle of moral philosophy, whether deontological or consequentialist, is that “ought” to imply “can”. But is it consistent to hold in certain instances that an “ought” does not imply a “can”?


Keynote speakers

We are delighted to have three great keynote speakers for this conference:

Christopher Crowley teaches philosophy at University College Dublin. He is interested in ethics, philosophy of law, action theory, and the philosophy of religion. Amongst his publications are Moral Responsibility (Routledge 2013) and Medical Ethics, Ordinary Concepts and Ordinary Live (Palgrave MacMillan, 2008). He is currently working on a collaborative project concerning the philosophy of criminal law.

Katy Dineen is a lecturer in teaching and learning enhancement with the Centre for the Integration of Research Teaching and Learning and an assistant lecturer with the Department of Philosophy at University College Cork. Her research interests are in inclusion, philosophy of education and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Her publications include work on misogyny and moral education, intersectionality and health, and childism or systemic prejudice against children.

Lisa Tessman is a Professor of Philosophy at Binghamton University in New York, and a Senior Researcher at the University of Oslo. She works in ethics, moral psychology, and feminist philosophy, with a focus on how people experience morality under difficult conditions. Her books include When Doing the Right Thing Is Impossible (2017), Moral Failure: On the Impossible Demands of Morality (2015) and Burdened Virtues: Virtue Ethics for Liberatory Struggles (2005). She is currently doing collaborative work on moral residue.



If you wish to present a paper, please send an anonymized abstract of no more than 300 words free of any identifying information, and in Word format, to irishphilosophicalsociety@gmail.com by 8 May 2022 (midnight Irish time).

We welcome abstracts addressing the theme of this conference from a variety of standpoints, methodologies and traditions. Contributions centring on either moral development or moral failure are welcome, as are papers investigating the intersection of these two problem domains. We welcome abstracts from academics, postdoctoral scholars, independent scholars and from postgraduate researchers. We also welcome abstracts from Undergraduate Students for an Undergraduate Student session. Areas include, but are not limited to:

  • What are Moral Dilemmas and how significant are they?
  • Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development
  • The ‘is/ought’ principle
  • Moral Emotion and Moral Development and/or Moral Failure
  • Moral Education
  • Moral Education and Hellenistic Philosophy
  • Moral Failure as Ignorance
  • Religion and the Moral failure (questions of grace, fallenness and redemption)
  • Moral Demands
  • Moral Choice and Tragedy
  • Forms of Wrong-doing and the Role of Education
  • Kantian Ethics and the Role of Duty
  • Moral Phenomenology
  • Gender and Moral Development (esp. Gilligan’s critique of Kohlberg)
  • Moral Development and Cultural Difference


Conference format

The conference will be held in person unless there is a dramatic change with respect to public health guidance. Papers will be 20 minutes in length with 15 minute questions and answers.


Conference costs

  • Free to members of IPS
  • Non-members of the IPS can become members by joining the IPS during registration if their abstracts are accepted



  • 13th  March 2022: CfP opens
  • 8th May 2022 (midnight Ireland): CfP closes
  • Mid-June 2022: Abstract submission outcomes communicated
  • Early August 2022: Speaker and delegate registration opens


Selection process

  • The deadline for the submission of abstracts is Monday 8th May 2022 (midnight Irish time)
  • Abstracts will undergo blind peer-review by members of the conference committee who represent Mary Immaculate College and The Irish Philosophical Society
  • We intend to inform everyone on the outcome of their submission by 15 June 2022