Moral Idiots and Blameless Brutes in Aristotle’s Ethics

Southwest Philosophy Review 38 (1):245-256 (2022)
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Aristotle maintains that vicious people are blameworthy despite their moral ignorance, since becoming vicious was up to them and whatever is up to us we are able to do or not do. However, one’s upbringing shapes one’s moral character. Together, these claims invite an objection I call the horrible childhood challenge. According to this objection, vicious adults who suffered horrible childhoods through which they were taught to adopt bad ends as though they were good should not be held accountable for their vice. Aristotle’s likely answer to this challenge reveals that, for Aristotle, a minimal degree of rationality is necessary for moral responsibility. I argue that, for Aristotle, a vicious agent is responsible for her vice only if 1) she is rational, which implies 2) she grasps a specific basic principle, thus consenting to become a certain kind of person through action. The thoroughly bad who satisfy both claims are moral idiots; those who do not may be blameless brutes.



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Audrey Anton
Western Kentucky University

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