PHI 2630 Lecture 7: 1.28.docx

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13 Feb 2014
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Virtue Ethics 01/28/2014
Background
Contrast to other major approaches
Whereas consequentialism focuses on the consequences of action in determining what is the right action
Deontology focuses on moral duties
Virtue ethics deals with virtues and moral character
What sort of person should I be?”
What ought I to do?”
Brief History
Classic virtue ethicists
Plato
Aristotle
Student of Plato
Heyday carried through to 1800s
Mostly fell in disfavor until 1950s
Anscombe’s “Modern Moral Philosophy”
“The Nature of Virtue” (Aristotle)
Human Good
“For all things have a function or activity, the good and the ‘well’ is thought to reside in the function, so
would it seem to be for man if he has a function”
E.g., doctor’s function is to cure and prevent disease
Human function is that which is distinctive of humans
Good qua ________ : does well at his or her function
Good qua doctor cures and prevents lots of diseases
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Eudaimonia
The function of humans must be related to our distinctive rational capacities!
Aristotle calls this “the activity of the soul
Any action is well performed when it is performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence”
So human good – living well – is “activity of soul exhibiting excellence” – Eudaimonia
Translated from Greek: Flourishing, Happiness, Well-being
In particular, living well “in a complete life” – a lifelong activity
Virtue (arête), according to Aristotle
A virtuous person is a moral exemplar of a person – a good qua person.
Virtue is required for living well qua human (rational being)
Virtues: Courage, Honesty, Temperance, Justice
Virtues stem from education over time – need experience
So it follows that much of virtue is acquired, neither virtue nor vice are possessed by nature at birth – “as a
result of habit
Virtues are “multi-track” character traits, or dispositions
Question: Can’t some people be too honest or too courageous? Courageous “to a fault?”
Related problem: If a compassionate person is led to help a person commit a morally wrong action – say lie
about their alibi because of her desire to be compassionate, then doesn’t that morally good person do
something wrong in virtue of what makes her good?
Response: Aristotle’s use of the term virtue departs from current common use
E.g., To be courageous isn’t just to be fearless (our thief is fearless!). To be honest is not just to always
follow your desire to tell the truth. Compassion is not just to be moved by others’ suffering.
How do we cultivate virtue? Practical Wisdom (Phronesis)
“The virtues we get by first exercising them”
Like developing a talent of trade
Do as the virtuous person would do and can acquire virtue
E.g., become just by doing just acts
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