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Ch. 9 – the Ethics of Character: Virtues and Vices Aristotle and Our Contemporaries.

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Presentation on theme: "Ch. 9 – the Ethics of Character: Virtues and Vices Aristotle and Our Contemporaries."— Presentation transcript:

1 Ch. 9 – the Ethics of Character: Virtues and Vices Aristotle and Our Contemporaries

2 Introduction Concern for character has flourished in the West since the time of Plato, whose early dialogues explored such virtues as courage and piety

3 Two Moral Questions The Question of Action: - How ought I to act? The Question of Character: - What kind of person ought I to be? Our concern here is with the question of character.

4 An Analogy from the Criminal Justice System As a country, we place our trust for just decisions in the legal arena in two places: 1.Laws, which provide the necessary rules 2.People, who (as judge and jury) apply rules judiciously Similarly, ethics places its tgrust in: 1.Theories, which provide rules for conduct 2.Virtue, which provides the wisdom necessary for applying rules in particular instances.

5 Virtue Strength of character (habit Involving both feeling and action Seeks the mean between excess and deficiency relative to us Promotes human flourishing - Aristotle

6 Sphere of Existence DeficiencyMeanExcess Attitude toward selfServility Self- depreciation Proper Self-Love Proper Pride Self-Respect Arrogance Conceit Egoism Narcissim Vanity Attitude toward offenses of others Ignoring them Being a Doormat Anger Forgiveness Understanding Revenge Grudge Resentment Attitude toward good deeds of others Suspicion Envy Ignoring them Gratitude Admiration Over-indebtedness Attitude toward our own offenses Indifference Remorselessnes s Downplaying Agent Regret Remorse Making Amends Learning from them Self-Forgiveness Toxic Guilt Scrupulousity Shame Attitude toward our friends Indifference Loyalty Obsequiousness

7 Spheres of Existence - 2 Attitude toward our own good deeds Belittling Disappointcment Sense of Accomplishment Humility Self- righteousness Attitude toward suffering of others CallousnessCompassionPity “Bleeding Heart” Attitude toward the achievement of others Self-satisfaction Complacency Competition Admiration Emulation Envy Attitude toward death and danger CowardiceCourageFoolhardiness Attitude toward our own desires AnhedoniaTemperance Moderation Lust Gluttony Attitude toward other people ExploitationRespectDeferentiality

8 Two Conceptions of Morality We can contrast two approaches to the moral life. -- The childhood conception of moral life Comes from outside (usually parents) Is negative (“don’t touch that stove burner) Rules and habit formation are central. --- The adult conception of morality Comes from within (self-directed_ Is positive (“this is the kind of person I want to be”) Virtue centered, often modeled on ideals.

9 The Purpose of Morality Both of these conceptions of morality are appropriate at different times in life. Adolescence and early adulthood is the time when some people make the transition from the adolescent conception of morality to the adult conception.

10 Rightly-ordered Desires Aristotle draws an interesting contrast between: Continent people, who have unruly desires but manage to control them. Temperate people, whose desires are naturally— or through habit, second-nature—directed toward that which is good for them. Weakness of will (akrasia) occurs when individuals cannot keep their desires under control.

11 Rightly-ordered Desires and the Goals of Moral Education Moral education may initially seek to control unruly desires through rules, the formation of habits, etc. Ultimately, moral education aims at forming rightly-ordered desires, that is, teaching people to desire what is genuinely good for them.

12 Character and Human Flourishing Aristotle on Human Flourishing - functional context: a good hammer nails well, a good guitar is capable of making good music. - unique properties: for humans reasoning or thinking: for Aristotle, the contemplative life leads to happiness. Largely determined by leisure. - for Aristotle happiness is related to practical wisdom. Deliberating well promotes flourishing and a recognition of political conception of happiness – that humans are happy in a social context. Pluralistic approach recognizes humans have many goals, contemplative and social. Some restraints on goals from our social and intellectual natures.

13 Assessing Aristotle’s Account of Flourishing Anti-reductionistic – not lowest common denominator. Holism – other extreme: highest common denominator. Overemphasis on role of thinking not totality of human functions. Ethics for nobility – ethics for privileged ruling class, free, adult Greek males.

14 Contemporary Accounts of Human Flourishing External impediments to human flourishing: - social factors: economics, architecture of living and work environments Internal Impediments: - Freud’s or Jung’s balance of psychological factors - Maslow’s peak experiences - we are our own worst enemies; flourishing is primarily a state of mind rather than a state of matter.

15 Aristotle’s Definition of Virtue A habit or disposition of the soul Involving both feeling and action To seek the mean in all things relative to us Where the mean is defined through reason as the prudent man would define it (EN 2, p.6) Virtue leads to happiness or human flourishing.

16 Habits of Soul According to Aristotle virtue is a hexis, a dispostion or habit. We are not born with virtues. We acquire them through imitation of role models and practice. Moral education focusses on the development of character, or what Aristotle calls “soul.”

17 Feeling and Action For Aristotle virtue is not just acting in a particular way but feeling certain ways. Virtue includes emotion as well as action. The compassionate person not only helps to alleviate suffering but has feelings toward others’ suffering. Exclusion of feeling from moral consideration led to problems for Kantian theory, utilitarianism and egoistic theories. Aristotle’s inclusion of the emotive character of virtue overcomes this objection.

18 Virtue As the Golden Mean Strength of character (virtue), Aristotle suggests, involves finding the proper balance between two extremes. --Excess: having too much of something --Deficiency: having too little of something Not mediocrity, but harmony and balance. See examples below.

19 Courage The strength of character necessary to continue in the face of our fears. -Deficiency: cowardice, the inability to do what is necessary to have those things in life which we need in order to flourish. Too much fear Too little confidence - Excess: Rashness * Too little fear. * Too much confidence * Poor judgment about ends worth achieving.

20 Courage and Gender Women are not warriors: For Aristotle, women can’t be courageous in the fullest sense. They weren’t allowed to fight in wars. Only in 2011 have women been permitted active combat roles in America. Underrecognition of Women’s Courage: Native American and European pioneer women required courage. Childbirth requires courage. Courage in response to emotional and physical abuse. Developmental challenges of going from girlhood to womanhood.

21 Compassion Compassion begins in feeling. Compassion needs action. Moral imagination needed to translate feeling into action. Compassion is not pity – acknowledges a kind of moral equality.

22 Self-Love Involves feeings as well as acting and knowing. Loving Others – wants to see the other flourish. Loving Ourselves – not unconditional self- approval, involves self-examination and deep concern for welfare of the self. Self-love involves a self that is engaged in the world. Self-love demands self knowledge.

23 Practical Wisdom or Phronesis Application of specific excellence of character to a particular situation in light of an overall conception of the good life. Knowing how to achieve a particular end and which ends are worth striving to achieve. The virtues are interdependent. Practical wisdom is difficult and elusive.

24 Ethical Pluralism and Practical Wisdom Balance competing theories in particular situations. Admit all relevant moral considerations and seek best balance. Act-oriented traditions needed to balance character ethics. This is practical wisdom.


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