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Alienation as Atrophied Moral Cognition and Its Implications for Political Behavior



I present a theory of alienation that accounts for the cognitive processes involved with moral thinking and political behavior in modern societies. On my account, alienation can be understood as a particular kind of atrophy of moral concepts and moral thinking that affect the ways individuals cognize and legitimate the social world and their place within it. Central to my argument is the thesis that modern forms of social integration—shaped by highly institutionalized, rationalized and hierarchical forms of social life—serve to constrain the moral- cognitive powers of subjects leading to a condition of alienation as moral atrophy. This state results from the withering of the subject's internal powers of moral reflection and an overriding predisposition to rely on external value schemas to make sense of moral and political problems. I then present an analysis of alienated moral consciousness and its implications for modern social theory.