A Feminist Defense of the Unity of the Virtues

Philosophia 41 (3):693-702 (2013)
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In The Impossibility of Perfection, Michael Slote tries to show that the traditional Aristotelian doctrine of the unity of the virtues is mistaken. His argumentative strategy is to provide counterexamples to this doctrine, by showing that there are what he calls “partial virtues”—pairs of virtues that conflict with one another but both of which are ethically indispensible. Slote offers two lines of argument for the existence of partial virtues. The first is an argument for the partiality of a particular pair of virtues: frankness and tact. The second is a kind of feminist critique. I argue that both of these lines of argument fail. In both cases, Slote fails to ask whether the apparent conflict between putatively partial virtues has arisen from a misunderstanding of the demands of those virtues. From this error I suggest we can learn an important lesson: whether in our studies thinking about the virtues or in our everyday lives trying to practice them, it is a serious mistake to focus on the relationships among virtues without considering precisely what each of these virtues demands.



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Ben Bryan
Austin College

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