Moral Character and the Iteration Problem

Utilitas 7 (02):289- (1995)
Abstract
Moral evaluation is concerned with the attribution of values whose distinction into two broad groups has become familiar. On the one hand, there are the most general moral values of lightness, wrongness, goodness, badness, and what ought to be or to be done. On the other, there is a great diversity of more specific moral values which these objects can have: of being a theft, for instance, or a thief; of honesty, reliability or callousness. Within the recent body of work attempting to restore to the virtues a central place in ethical thinking, two claims stand out. One is that, of these two kinds of values, the specific ones are explanatorily prior to the general – that if an action is wrong, it is because it is wrong in one of those specific respects. A second claim, though, is now standardly made definitive of ‘Virtue ethics’: that amongst the specific values, the value of character is explanatorily prior to that of action – that if an action is callous, say, it is because it expresses callousness of character – and that in this sense, the moral value of action derives from that of character. This second claim has been widely attacked; in what follows, I present a reason for believing that, at least in the case of callousness, it is right
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