The virtues of ignorance

Journal of Philosophy 86 (7):373-384 (1989)
Authors
Julia Driver
Washington University in St. Louis
Abstract
In The Virtues of Ignorance the author demonstrates that classical theories of virtue are flawed and developes a consequentialist theory of virtue. ;Virtues are excellences of character. They are traits which are considered to be valuable in some way. A person who is virtuous is one who has a tendency to act well. Classical philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, believed that virtues, as human excellences, could not involve ignorance in any way. On their view, the virtuous agent, when acting well, knows what she is doing under the description which makes the action conform to virtue. For example, the generous person must know that she is, in fact, helping others in need. Yet, there is a class of virtues, the "virtues of ignorance," which essentially involve ignorance. For example, modesty requires that the agent underestimate self worth. In the first portion of the dissertation, this class of virtues is discussed, and problems raised for the traditional theories of virtue. ;In the latter portion of the dissertation, the author outlines a consequentialist theory of virtue. It is argued that the only hope of developing a unified theory of virtue is along consequentialist lines, because attempts at identifying the psychological state which is necessary for virtue have failed. On a consequentialist theory, a virtue is defined in terms of its consequences. Thus, the moral quality of the character trait is determined by how much good it brings about . The virtues of ignorance can easily be accommodated in such a theory because these traits do bring about good, even if the agent possessing the trait acts out of ignorance
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DOI jphil198986748
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