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Virtue Ethics

Click to edit Master subtitle style 08/03/2010

6/17/12

Aristotle

G. E. M. Anscombe and Peter Geach

Philippa Foot

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Virtue Ethics
Accommodates the natural concern many of

have with being good a good person

in addition to merely performing right acts

(producing good consequences, following moral rules)

Acting well vs. Acting rightly

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Virtue Ethics
Often describes actions in the virtue and vice

terms

Torture is cruel Paying back your debts is just Speaking up in that situation was courageous

Anscombe suggested that this is a great

improvement over morally wrong (or right), because this language still informs us about what we ought and ought not to do. 6/17/12

More than Actions


The virtue (and vice) terms do not merely

apply to the outward action, but to the state of character of the agent.

When a store manager practices business in an

honest fashion because this is a good way to attract customers and maximize profits, we dont quite want to say that he is acting honestly, or that he is a man of honest character.

Being virtuous doesnt simply mean prone

to act in good ways


the truth

Being honest does not only mean tends to tell 6/17/12

What is a Virtue?
1: Good-making property
Makes one good qua human

Because we are, by nature, rational and social

beings, the virtues help us fulfill our human nature.


Important for achieving a good life, or

eudaimonia.
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What is a Virtue?
2: Goodness of the Rational Will
Concerns reason and rational choice

Not a mere pre-reflective inclination to do well.

This implies that virtue is something more than

what nice children are capable of having.

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What is a Virtue?
3: A Corrective
Supplement human beings where they find

natural temptations, deficiencies of motivation, or tendencies toward vice.


Justice is a corrective where we want to keep things

we dont deserve or distribute things (like punishment) in a way that others dont deserve; to be overcome by fear; uncaring of others.

Courage is a corrective where we have the tendency Charity is a corrective where we tend to be selfish or

This suggests that knowing the virtues depends

on knowing what human nature6/17/12 is like

Components of Virtue
1: Habit
Reliability and Consistency Virtues are developed, not acquired

at once
Virtues are strongly entrenched
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Components of Virtue
2: Sensitivity to Reasons
Virtue involves seeing certain

considerations as practical reasons, and being motivated by and acting on them.


Seeing the humanity of others as reason to

not to harm or lie to them.

Seeing anothers vulnerability as a reason

to help, not to take advantage. conduct business honestly.

Seeing the value of truth as reason to


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Components of Virtue
3: Emotions and Attitudes
You are happy to perform virtuous deeds

You are attracted to other virtuous

people

The vicious behavior of your friends and

family makes you sad.

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Components of Virtue
4: Natural Inclination to Act Well
Virtuous actions come naturally No need to battle contrary desires Spontaneous expression of ones

innermost desires
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Components of Virtue
5: Phronesis: Practical Wisdom
The ability to reason correctly to make

wise choices

Requires knowledge and life experience Solves conflicts between the virtues (or

moral rules)

Supplements mere natural virtue: it

perfects (is a check on) the spontaneous component.


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Recap: Five Components of Virtue


1: Habit 2: Sensitivity to Reasons 3: Emotions and Attitudes 4: Natural Inclincation to Act
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Virtue?

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Virtue?

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Virtue?

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Virtue?

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Virtue > Continence


Continence = Strength of Will But virtue, for the virtuous

person, should be easy


Exercise of will-power implies

imperfect virtue:
No virtuous habit formed Wrong motives and attitudes Not naturally inclined to act well
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But is this always the case?

The Puzzle
[We] both are and are not inclined to

think that the harder a man finds it to act virtuously the more virtue he shows if he does act well. For on the one hand great virtue is needed where it is particularly hard to act virtuously; yet on the other it could be argued that difficulty in acting virtuously shows that the agent is imperfect in virtue.
6/17/12 Philippa Foot, Virtues and Vices

Foot's Solution
The dilemma can be resolved only

when we stop talking about difficulties standing in the way of virtuous action as if they were of only one kind.

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Foot's Solution
Consider the following: A woman finds a purse on the street

with lots of money in it, and is temped to take it because


(a) she is a poor single mother with

hungry children at home


(b) she is struggling with kleptomania

(the desire to steal)


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Circumstances vs. Character


In (a) it is the womans circumstances that

makes it hard to act rightly.

Even further, an important factor contributing

to the difficulty is her love and concern for her children, which is a sign of virtue.
So, we can imagine that even someone with

full virtue would find this situation difficult. In fact we might think less of the woman if she werent tempted by the purse.
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Circumstances vs. Character


In (b) it is the womans vicious character that

makes it hard to act rightly.

Assuming that she did not need the money to

feed her children, the prospect of taking the purse should not quite have occurred to her if she were fully virtuous.

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Review
A virtue is
1: A good-making property 2: Goodness of the rational will 3: A corrective
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Review
Components of Virtue
1: Habit 2: Sensitivity to Reasons 3: Emotions and Attitudes 4: Natural Inclination to Act 5: Phronesis: Practical Wisdom
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