Virtue Theory and the Self

Teaching Philosophy 21 (2):153-162 (1998)
It is well-observed that undergraduate students frequently profess ethical relativism, but they also frequently defend ethical egoism. The author suggests four reasons why ethical egoism is so common among undergraduates: since college students’ identity is in flux, a normative framework in which the self may be appealed to as a foundation for value offers a sense of security; most college students have relatively few obligations beyond themselves; media and advertising tend to promote and reward egoism; egoism is easy and affords students the appearance of being non-judgmental and tolerant. Nevertheless, the author notes, even the most diehard egoist holds the belief that their ego works to realize some potential, which means they are in at least a minimal sense committed to something beyond themselves. Virtue theory is especially useful in exploiting this commitment to show student egoists the plausibility of non-egoistic normative viewpoints. Discussing the examples of true friendship, courage, generosity, honest self-presentation, eudaemonia, and temperance, the author explains how virtue theory can articulate values which the student egoist is committed to but which cannot be satisfactorily accounted for by egoistic frameworks. The author concludes by addressing the importance of group discussion for lending concreteness to the lessons of virtue theory
Keywords Teaching Philosophy
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ISBN(s) 0145-5788
DOI 10.5840/teachphil199821220
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