Le etiche della virtù. La riflessione contemporanea a partire da Hume by Alessio Vaccari (review)

Hume Studies 39 (1):123-127 (2013)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Le etiche della virtù. La riflessione contemporanea a partire da Hume by Alessio VaccariSarin MarchettiAlessio Vaccari. Le etiche della virtù. La riflessione contemporanea a partire da Hume. Firenze : Le Lettere, 2012. Pp. 320. ISBN 9788860876324, Paper, €29.00.Alessio Vaccari’s volume represents a major achievement in Hume scholarship as well as in contemporary reflection on philosophical ethics. Le etiche della virtù. La riflessione contemporanea a partire da Hume (Virtue Ethics: From Hume Onwards) will be of much value to both historians of moral philosophy and contemporary ethicists who are versed in the ongoing discussions over the nature and point of moral thought. In an intellectual landscape dominated by a legalistic conception of ethics, Vaccari’s investigation is a historiographically committed and theoretically inspired inquiry into (and re-evaluation of) the health of and current regard for the paradigm of the virtues. On the one hand, the author is interested in challenging the influential narrative—voiced by Elizabeth Anscombe (1958) and Alasdair MacIntyre (1981)—according to which modern moral philosophy has been characterized by the most unfortunate eclipse of the language of the virtues; on the other, he aims at reconstructing an effective, viable understanding of virtue ethics along those Humean lines best suited to address the distinctive difficulties facing our contemporary progressive societies. (The challenge of environmental sustainability and future generations is taken as exemplary.) Against Anscombe and MacIntyre, and following the lesson of Jerome B. Schneewind (1990 Jerome B. Schneewind (1998), Vaccari argues that in the post-Enlightenment moral debate, we have not paid enough attention to distinctively modern articulations of the central features of [End Page 123] virtue ethics, including the cultivation of one’s character as a prime moral goal, an enriched understanding of the qualitative dimension and intrinsic value of human happiness, and the acknowledgement of the moral significance of both personal and social relationships for the realization of the good.These historiographical and theoretical concerns represent two sides of the same coin, as Vaccari compellingly argues that the oversight (if not disregard) of the typically modern conception of the virtues finely elaborated by Hume in his works—partly reprised and further refined by John Stuart Mill—deprives us of precious analytical resources to resolve some general impasses that are features of contemporary moral reflection (for example, the demandingness of duty based ethics and the limits of impartial accounts of moral principles) as well as the tensions internal to virtue ethics, especially of neo-Aristotelean and neo-Kantian sorts, (for example, their conflicting pictures of the virtuous agent and the experiential unsoundness of their accounts of the stabilization of moral responses). Humean virtue ethics is depicted, in the first instance, as a radical approach to—and style of—moral philosophy: descriptive and yet normative, explicative without being prescriptive. It is thus Vaccari’s claim that by re-discovering neglected and yet central aspects of Hume’s practical philosophy, illuminated by Mill’s romantic utilitarianism and contrasted to both Kant’s rationalism and (partly) Nietzsche’s perfectionism, we would gain access to a fresh conceptual possibility about how best to reflect on the moral life. This operation also opens up a fertile space for a metaphilosophical investigation of the very character and stakes of moral thought itself, whose lack of reflexivity upon its philosophical credentials is often at the basis of the aforementioned difficulties.The two tasks are brilliantly coordinated, resulting in a volume that is a gold mine of both historical and speculative details that provide a critical store of intellectual resources for thinking through these issues. Besides firmly mastering the primary sources, Vaccari digests an impressive body of secondary literature, which is clearly explained and skillfully assessed. Targeted at scholars of Hume and virtue ethics, Le etiche della virtù is highly recommended for advanced undergraduate courses as well as for graduate seminars both on the history of modern moral philosophy and on contemporary meta-ethics and normative ethics. An English translation of the volume would surely widen its audience and boost its circulation.The volume comprises a preface, five chapters, and an exhaustive bibliography. In the preface, Vaccari sets the stage for his defense of a sentimentalist version of virtue...

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