Three objections to Aristotelian virtue ethics Michael Lacewing

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Three objections to Aristotelian virtue ethics Michael Lacewing enquiries@alevelphilosophy. co. uk © Michael Lacewing

Three objections to Aristotelian virtue ethics Michael Lacewing [email protected] co. uk © Michael Lacewing

Guidance on how to act • The doctrine of the mean is no practical

Guidance on how to act • The doctrine of the mean is no practical help – ‘Too much’ and ‘too little’ aren’t quantities on a single scale: the ‘mean’ is meaningless – So how often or how angry should we get? • Reply: the doctrine of the mean isn’t an algorithm – Practical wisdom is needed to judge the mean: the mean is where the person with practical wisdom judges it to be – This isn’t a matter of following a rule © Michael Lacewing

Guidance on how to act • But theory of practical wisdom provides no guidance

Guidance on how to act • But theory of practical wisdom provides no guidance either – If I have practical wisdom, I know what to do; if I don’t, simply knowing that I should do what the virtuous person would do doesn’t help! – Without virtue, we can’t know what is good – so not everyone knows what is good © Michael Lacewing

Reply • Knowledge of what to do comes in degrees, and we can hold

Reply • Knowledge of what to do comes in degrees, and we can hold most people responsible – And people can improve their knowledge of what is good by trying to become better people • Annas: by the time we reflect on right action, we each already have a life – So we have some guidance from our culture, but this will prove inadequate – We are each at different stages of moral development – there is no one right action for everyone • We should think of situations in terms of the virtues © Michael Lacewing

Conflicts between virtues • What if the virtues conflict, e. g. justice and mercy?

Conflicts between virtues • What if the virtues conflict, e. g. justice and mercy? • Aristotle denies that this is possible. – With practical wisdom, we can know what virtue demands and avoid the conflict. © Michael Lacewing

Circularity • An act is virtuous if it is an act that would be

Circularity • An act is virtuous if it is an act that would be done by a virtuous person in this situation. • A virtuous person is a person who is disposed to do virtuous acts. • So what is a virtuous person or virtuous act? ? – An act is virtuous if it is an act that would be done by a person who is disposed to do virtuous acts in this situation – A virtuous person is a person who is disposed to do acts that would be done by a virtuous person © Michael Lacewing

Reply • Too simple: A virtuous person is not defined merely as someone who

Reply • Too simple: A virtuous person is not defined merely as someone who is disposed to do virtuous actions – A virtuous person has the virtues – concerned with eudaimonia, passions and pleasure © Michael Lacewing

Objection • The problem is epistemological: – We can’t tell whether an act is

Objection • The problem is epistemological: – We can’t tell whether an act is virtuous without knowing whether a virtuous person would do it. – And we can’t tell whether someone is virtuous without seeing whether they do virtuous acts. • Reply: We can know what a virtuous person is without being able name individuals – ‘What the virtuous person would do’ is a standard for judging acts – Other criteria for virtue apart from acts © Michael Lacewing

A different reply • Annas: the appeal to ‘what the virtuous person do’ is

A different reply • Annas: the appeal to ‘what the virtuous person do’ is an encouragement for me to think what I should do if I were more virtuous. – Don’t think of the question from the ‘third person’ – ‘what is definition of virtuous action? ’ but from the ‘first person’ – what should I do? © Michael Lacewing