Obituaries are an especially rich resource for identifying people’s values. Because obituaries are succinct and explicitly intended to summarize their subjects’ lives, they may be expected to include only the features that the author(s) find most salient, not only for themselves as relatives or friends of the deceased, but also to signal to others in the community the socially-recognized aspects of the deceased’s character. We report three approaches to the scientific study of virtue and value through obituaries. We begin by (...) reviewing studies 1 and 2, in which obituaries were carefully read and labeled. We then report study 3, which further develops these results with a semi-automated, large-scale semantic analysis of several thousand obituaries. Finally, we present the results of study 4 in which individuals were asked to write prospective obituaries. Geography, gender, and elite status all turn out to influence the virtues and values associated with the deceased. (shrink)
The Emotions chapter (XXV) in James' Principles of Psychology traverses the entire range of experienced emotions from the “coarser” and more instinctual to the “subtler” emotions intimately involved in cognitive, moral, and aesthetic aspects of life. But Principles limits himself to an account of emotional consciousness and so there are few direct discussions in the text of Principles about what later came to be called moral psychology, and fewer about anything resembling philosophical ethics. Still, James’ short section on the subtler (...) emotions, when read in connection with his later philosophical writings, still provides insight on James’ views about how human emotion colors our moral psychology and agency. The paper tries to articulate how James' somatic account of emotion adds significantly to contemporary discussions at the borders of moral psychology and philosophy: discussions over the foreground/background distinction, emotional temperament, emotional learning, moral imagination, and selfhood and narrativity. The final section focuses on the neo-Jamesian character of "new sentimentalist" moral psychologists. Among the substantial connections I discuss between James and 1) between Jonathan Haidt’s “social intuitionism” and 2) Jesse Prinz’s "emotionism" are the critiques that they each share of the pretensions of hard universalist ethical theories. (shrink)
In the current debate in political philosophy, the so-called communitarian thinkers intend to offer an alternative to the dominant liberal thought. The ideal of ethicalcommunity as way of life in society in which intersubjective relationships are ruled by laws conceived as public laws, reintroduces the question of virtue in the scope of social and political life, with the requirement of an ethical style of doing politics.
Classical presentations of the Buddhist path prescribe the cultivation of various good qualities that are necessary for spiritual progress, from mindfulness and loving-kindness to faith and wisdom. Examining the way in which such qualities are described and classified in early Buddhism—with special reference to their treatment in the Visuddhimagga by the fifth-century Buddhist thinker Buddhaghosa—the present article employs a comparative method in order to identify the Buddhist catalog of virtues. The first part sketches the characteristics of virtue as analyzed by (...) neo-Aristotelian theories. Relying on these accounts, the second part considers three lists from early Buddhism as possible catalogs of virtue: the components of ethical conduct, the 37 factors that contribute to awakening, and the wholesome or beautiful mental factors. I then raise the question of why the Buddhist tradition developed several classifications of virtue, whereas the Western tradition of virtue ethics used a single category. Appealing to the connection between the virtues and living well in the eudaimonistic version of virtue ethics, I propose that one of the reasons why Buddhism developed multiple lists of virtues is its pluralistic acceptance of different modalities of living well and associated practices, in MacIntyre’s sense of the term. These modalities and practices are not equal, but are ordered hierarchically. Accordingly, I conclude that Buddhist ethics ought to be seen as a pluralist-gradualist system rather than a universalist theory. (shrink)
We have recently witnessed an explosion in the theme of virtues. It is not by chance that in most parts of the world research centers, projects, associations, and foundations on virtues have been founded. But what is behind this phenomenon? The recovery of virtue ethics was initiated by Elizabeth Anscombe, re-launched by Alasdair MacIntyre, and has now been developed by many authors in a contemporary context. Virtue ethics has now become its own distinct subject matter, according to some it is (...) named appropriately, and according to others not. Speaking of virtue is thus a reflection of the historical period we are going through: to be virtuous is “cool”, a part of one’s identity and character. In this light, being virtuous founds its refection in narcissism. Paradoxically becoming virtuous does not involve a progress toward human flourishing, but rather it becomes about fulfilling a realisation which is already in place in the person without any effort, sacrifice, or work. Perhaps a philosophy of humility can recover a horizon of action in which humanity tends towards its flourishing, and thus to a recovery of virtue that must increasingly be as silent as exercised? (shrink)
I argue in favour of the central claim of virtue-ethical accounts of right action: that right action is virtuous action. First, I disambiguate this claim and argue for a specific interpretation of it. Second, I provide reasons to prefer target-centred over both agent-centred and motive-centred accounts of virtuous action. Third, I argue that an action is right if, only if, and because it is overall virtuous. Finally, I respond to important arguments to the contrary.
This article offers a straightforward reading of Hume's ‘narrow circle’ – the boundary employed to define those with whom we sympathize in assessing an agent's moral character – that follows from a more careful look at his account of virtue. Hume employs a principle that can be understood as a virtue ethical equivalent of associative obligation, which thereby delimits the boundaries of this circle. This reading avoids concerns about unjustified partiality, moral blind spots, and demandingness, and shows a clear path (...) for reaching uniform moral judgments; it also offers a new perspective on virtue of interest for contemporary virtue ethics. (shrink)
The still dominant virtue-ethical account of right action claims that an action is right just in case a virtuous agent would perform it. Because this account arguably fails to capture what makes actions right, virtue ethicists are well-advised to consider alternatives. I argue that a target-centered account, if suitably developed, succeeds in capturing what makes actions right. First, I explain why a target-centered account shows initial promise in capturing what makes actions right and present an interpretation of the account as (...) developed by its creator, Christine Swanton. Second, I argue that Swanton's and other prominent virtue ethicists’ views of virtuous action are defective, partly in virtue of accepting reasons of the wrong kind for an action’s being virtuous or vicious in respect to a virtue. My arguments, if successful, motivate an alternative version of the target-centered account. Finally, I contribute to the development of such an alternative by sketching a view of virtuous action that avoids the aforementioned defects and thereby promises full success in capturing what makes actions right. (shrink)
Some virtues, like courage and temperance, have been part of the philosophical tradition since its inception. Others, like filial piety and female chastity, have gone out of style. Still others, like curiosity and aesthetic good taste, are upstarts. What, if anything, can be said in general about this motley collection? Are they all dispositions to respond to reasons? Do they share characteristic components, such as affect, emotion, and trust? Are they organized into a cardinal hierarchy, or is it better to (...) investigate them one by one, developing a comprehensive but unstructured catalogue? What would constitute an empirical test of the degree to which a given virtue is realized, and, to the extent that such tests have been conducted, what is their philosophical upshot? Contributions from various perspectives, including perspectives underrepresented in this context (experimental, feminist, Humean, pragmatist, phenomenological, etc.), are invited to address these and related questions. (shrink)
Having established her pluralistic account as an influential position within contemporary virtue ethics, in this work Christine Swanton offers a virtue-ethical reading of David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche with the aim of showing how they can further the development of virtue ethics beyond the Aristotelian and ancient eudaemonist traditions. Readers of Swanton’s other major work, Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View, may recall that many of its philosophical resources were drawn from Nietzsche and, to a lesser extent, from Hume. This new (...) study can be seen as offering a fuller and more historically grounded reading of the work of both thinkers. Swanton has also published on... (shrink)
Virtue is among the most venerable concepts in philosophy, and has recently seen a major revival. However, new challenges to conceptions of virtue have also arisen. In _Current Controversies in Virtue Theory_, five pairs of cutting-edge philosophers square off over central topics in virtue theory: the nature of virtue, the connection between virtue and flourishing, the connection between moral and epistemic virtues, the way in which virtues are acquired, and the possibility of attaining virtue. Mark Alfano guides his readers through (...) these essays, with a synthetic introduction, succinct abstracts of each debate, suggested further readings and study questions for each controversy, and a list of further controversies to be explored. (shrink)
It’s natural to assume that the bearers of virtues are individual agents, which would make virtues monadic dispositional properties. I argue instead that the most attractive theory of virtue treats a virtue as a triadic relation among the agent, the social milieu, and the asocial environment. A given person may or may not be disposed to behave in virtuous ways depending on how her social milieu speaks to and of her, what they expect of her, and how they monitor her. (...) Likewise, asocial environmental factors such as mood elevators, mood depressors, ambient sounds, and ambient smells mediate morally important behavioral dispositions. Many commentators have responded to such intrusions from outside the agent by arguing for the rarity of virtue understood as a monadic property. In contrast, I claim that we need to rethink the very nature of virtue, which would entail that cultivating virtue can be accomplished not only by habituation and other such interventions on the individual agent but also by selecting, modifying, and reinterpreting the social and asocial aspects of the environment. (shrink)
Although most cultures have held honorableness to be a virtue of the first importance, contemporary analytic ethicists have just begun to consider honor’s nature and ethical worth. In this essay, I provide an analysis of the honor ethos and apply it to business ethics. Applying honor to business may appear to be a particularly challenging task, since (for reasons I discuss) honor has traditionally been seen as incompatible with commerce. Nonetheless, I argue here that two of the central virtues of (...) the honor ethos—competiveness and magnificence—are perfectly apt ones for rich business executives, who plausibly can be expected to work more for prestige and the thrill of competition than for wealth itself. In addition to making top executives more honorable people, the virtues of competitiveness and magnificence would have positive social effects: honorable competitiveness would intrinsically dispose executives to shun anti-competitive practices, and magnificence would encourage tycoons to redistribute their fortunes voluntarily through philanthropy. (shrink)
In his Treatise of Human Nature Hume makes clear that it is his aim to make moral philosophy more scientific and properly grounded on experience and observation. The “experimental” approach to philosophy, Hume warns his readers, is “abstruse,” “abstract” and “speculative” in nature. It depends on careful and exact reasoning that foregoes the path of an “easy” philosophy, which relies on a more direct appeal to our passions and sentiments . Hume justifies this approach by way of an analogy concerning (...) the relevance of anatomy to painting. “The anatomist,” he says, “ought never to emulate the painter.” At the same time, the painter cannot afford to ignore the anatomist: An anatomist [...] is admirably fitted to give advice to a painter ... We must have an exact knowledge of the parts, their situation and connexion, before we can design with any elegance or correctness. And thus the most abstruse speculations concerning human nature, however cold and uninteresting, become subservient to practical morality; and may render this latter science more correct in its precepts, and more persuasive in its exhortations. As these remarks suggest, Hume’s anatomy of virtue is not without its own practical aims and objectives. It is advanced with a view to identifying and carefully delineating the true foundations of morality in human nature and correcting our practices in light of this. With this improvement in our understanding of the nature and basis of virtue, we can better appreciate the way in which virtue secures happiness for ourselves and others and may also avoid the distortions and corruptions of morality by religious superstition. (shrink)
In this paper, I present some reasons in favour of an interpretation of Hume’s moral philosophy as a brand new form of "virtue ethics." By discussing some specific issues within the secondary literature in favour and against this kind of reading, I argue that Hume offers better philosophical tools to redefine the basic notion of virtue ethics than the neo-Aristotelian alternative. In particular, I maintain that the strength of Hume’s proposal lies in its pointing toward the unity of character instead (...) of the unity of the virtues. This allows Hume to develop a nonfinalistic, secular and pluralistic morality in which the individuality of people is seen as a central value to be promoted. (shrink)
This book describes the ever-changing history of the concrete application of ethical reflection of individual authors, from Epicurus and Seneca, Montaigne and Gracian, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, to Erich Fromm and Michel Foucault. Eastern wisdom is also considered. The result is a concept of moral duty pertaining to the philosophy of life, which emerges from the tension between the pursuit of happiness and the human capability for happiness.
This paper considers whether eudaimonism is necessarily an idealizing approach to ethics. I argue, contrary to what is implied by Christine Swanton, that it is not, and I suggest that a non-ideal eudaimonistic virtue ethics can be useful for feminist and critical race theorists. For eudaimonist theorists in the Aristotelian tradition, the claim that one should aim to live virtuously assumes that there will typically be good enough background conditions so that an exercise of the virtues, in conjunction with these (...) favorable external conditions, will suffice for someone to flourish both in the sense of living virtuously and in the sense of living well or living the good life. However, under some forms of oppression the background conditions will not be good enough, and thus an exercise of the virtues will often be insufficient to constitute a flourishing life. It may seem that eudaimonism, with its foregrounding of the concept of flourishing and its assumption of a tight connection between living virtuously and living well, may function as a form of ideology that elides the ways in which non-ideal and oppressive conditions can separate virtue from well-being and can make the state of flourishing (in its dual senses) unattainable. I point out that eudaimonism can be revised to incorporate the claim that virtue and flourishing may typically be unlinked, and I advocate retaining flourishing as an unattainable end, exercising the virtues even with a sense of their absurdity, and confronting the existential states of frustration and disappointment that may result. (shrink)
This paper focuses on the preliminary evaluation of expressions of moral sentiment under conditions of cultural pluralism. The advance of science and technology puts ever new power over nature in human hands, and if this new power is to more fully serve human ends, then it must become the means or material of human virtue. This prospect poses the question of the relationship between power and virtue, and equally, the question of how scientific advances may be understood to enter into (...) a pluralism of moral doctrines and deliberations. Taking a page from the philosophy of science, the present approach examines the relationship between scientific advances and moral evaluations of developing practices as mediated by contemporary accounts of the virtues of hypotheses. If we conceive of expressions of moral sentiment as hypotheses for the amendment or expansion of existing moral doctrines in the light of new possibilities for action, then this suggests that expressions of moral sentiment may be evaluated, in a preliminary way, by reference to standard lists of the virtues of hypotheses: refutability, conservatism, modesty or simplicity, precision, elegance, and generality. Expressions of moral sentiment are subject to preliminary evaluation, on cognitive grounds, by reference to their prospective integration and/or modification of on-going moral traditions. (shrink)
What are virtue and vice, and how do they relate to other moral properties such as goodness and rightness? Thomas Hurka defends a distinctive perfectionist view according to which the virtues are higher-level intrinsic goods, ones that involve morally appropriate attitudes to other, independent goods and evils. He develops this highly original view in detail and argues for its superiority over rival views, including those given by virtue ethics.
Many forms of virtue ethics, like certain forms of utilitarianism, suffer from the problem of indirection. In those forms, the criterion for status of a trait as a virtue is not the same as the criterion for the status of an act as right. Furthermore, if the virtues for example are meant to promote the nourishing of the agent, the virtuous agent is not standardly supposed to be motivated by concern for her own flourishing in her activity. In this paper, (...) I propose a virtue ethics which does not suffer from the problem. Traits are not virtues because their cultivation and manifestation promote a value such as agent flourishing. They are virtues in so far as they are habits of appropriate response to various relevant values. This means that there is a direct connection between the rationale of a virtue and what makes an action virtuous or right. (shrink)