Presentation on theme: "An Introduction to Moral Philosophy Week Six: The Virtue of Virtue Ethics?"— Presentation transcript:
An Introduction to Moral Philosophy Week Six: The Virtue of Virtue Ethics?
Aristotle Recap Man is a ‘type’ of thing. A thing is measured by how well it performs its function. If a thing performs its function well, it is said to flourish ‘as that thing’ (it flourishes qua thing) and can be called ‘good’ (as a token of the type). Man’s function is to ‘reason well’. ‘The Virtues/Excellences’ are the means by which we achieve flourishing. Distinction between a virtuous man, a ‘continent’ man, and an incontinent, akratic, man.
Aristotle The problem of akrasia: If we all aim to flourish, and, on occasions where we know what we should do to achieve this, why do we sometimes fail? Smoker example. The akratic person acts knowing that what he does is bad…
Aristotle Akrasia Universal Premise – all instances of smoking are bad and, therefore, should be avoided. Practical Premise – this is an instance of smoking and, therefore, should be avoided. Conclusion – I should not smoke this cigarette.
Aristotle Akrasia Universal Premise – all instances of smoking are bad and, therefore, such actions should be avoided. Practical Premise – this is an instance of smoking and, therefore, should be avoided. Conclusion – I should not smoke this cigarette.
Aristotle Overwhelming desire prevents us from ‘attending to’ the universal premise… Attending to?
Akrasia Overwhelming desire prevents us from ‘attending to’ the universal premise… Attending to? Knowledge one has but isn’t currently being focused on. E.g. my car license place number is x. I know this information, but before I ‘thought about it’ I wasn’t ‘attending to it’. Drunk man and Empedocles (recitation, but no understanding).
Aristotle Back to the virtues… Virtue – mean between two vices, one of excess, one of deficiency… Role of ‘practical reason’ is to sort out what, in the situation, would count as excess/deficiency. Example: Courage lies between two vices – cowardliness (deficiency) and foolhardiness (excess).
Aristotle Virtues: Like ‘art’ (techne (=skill/craft)), virtues are developed by “repetition of the correctly corresponding acts”. To become a virtuous man, practice doing virtuous things over and over and over until the act becomes ‘instinct’. E.g. getting out of bed earlier in the morning becomes easier the more frequently one does it (promise). Andy Murray
Aristotle “Pleasure in doing virtuous acts is a sign that the virtuous disposition has been acquired” Contrast with Kant? Good dog Vs. miserable saint?
Aristotle Virtues. Courage (foolhardiness/cowardliness) Temperance (self-indulgence/insensibility) Liberality (prodigality/meanness) Magnificence (vulgarity/niggardliness) Pride (‘empty vanity’/‘undue humility’) Good Temper (irascibility (vengeful)/‘un-irascibility’)
Aristotle Virtues Friendliness (‘obsequiousness’/cantankerous) Truthfulness (‘boastful’/mock-modest) Ready wit (vulgar buffoons/boorish (humourless)) Quasi Virtue… Shame! NOT a virtue because it is not a state of character, but a sort of ‘passion’ (feeling). Shame is a fear of dishonour.
Aristotle Problems 1. Practical: Sure, I can accept that a human being is a ‘normative type’, but why should I aim to be the best of that type? Sure, I accept that this is what a ‘good man’ is, but why should I aim to be a good man? Seeing ‘the good’ might not motivate some… psychopath concern?
Aristotle Answer to problem one Question: why should I do this. Answer: because this is good. Does this work as an answer?
Aristotle Answer to problem one: The challenge can be presented as follows: to take scepticism seriously in the way that Korsgaard does, is to assume that morality needs some extra-moral basis; however, to be moral is precisely to think the moral reasons one has to act are compelling in themselves, without any such basis for them being required by someone who is a genuine moral agent. So, the Prichardian thinks that all we can really do is remind the sceptic what his moral obligations are, and not get tempted into trying to offer further support for them in some way, as then the sceptic may end up acting morally, but will be doing so for the wrong reasons, so that we have ultimately failed in our efforts to deal with his scepticism. Thus, the realist will claim that the higher wisdom here is not to try to answer the sceptic, but to refuse to engage with him for these Prichardian reasons; as a result, it is argued, Korsgaard’s strategy of criticizing the realist for failing to answer the ‘normative question’ is fatally flawed. Cf. McDowell 1998a: 86: ‘The question “Why should I conform to the dictates of morality?” is most naturally understood as asking for an extra-moral motivation that will be gratified by virtuous behaviour. So understood, the question has no answer. What may happen is that someone is brought to see things as a virtuous person does, and so stops feeling the need to ask it’.
Aristotle Stern (discussing Pritchard): The person looking for an answer to ‘why should I’ is looking for the wrong sort of answer by trying to find a non-moral base for a moral theory. Compare to ‘morality must be a product of (and therefore derive its authority from) evolution – I have no reason to participate in the ‘evolution’ of man, therefore morality does not bind me.’
Aristotle Asking ‘why should I let morality bind me’ is to assume that it does not already! Modern theories (i.e. ‘Constitutivism’) aim to show how moral norms (rules) can be derived from looking into the nature of agency and action. One is necessarily an agent, therefore one is necessarily ‘evaluated’ by the relevant criteria. There has been (at least) one attempt (namely, by me) to show that this is Aristotle’s position…
Aristotle Problem Two: 2. List of Virtues is not exhaustive… Is this a problem for Aristotle?
Aristotle Problem Three: 3. Ergon Argument is implausible… 1. Anything with a function is a tool, instrument, or utensil made by someone for a purpose. 2. Man is not a tool, etc., made by someone for a purpose. Therefore 3. Man does not have a function.
Aristotle Answer to problem three: We can put pressure on the first premise. E.g. the eye (heart, lungs, liver…) certainly has a function, but it’s not clear that it was made by someone for some purpose. It isn’t clear that Aristotle would accept premise one as it’s formulated.
Aristotle Answer to problem three: Premise two might be a non-starter (not all things that have a function are instruments, so man doesn’t have to be a ‘tool’ to have a function). Theists might hold an (implausible) ‘intelligent design account’ of creation. But this won’t help you argue against Aristotle anyway so it’s not an objection.
Mill, Kant or Aristotle? Who to choose? Some try to hold Aristotle AND Mill, Aristotle AND Kant (no-one, to my knowledge, holds Kant AND Mill – that would be really odd). Plausible hybrid? Other options?
Summary Mill – Do that which increases happiness (net increase of ‘pleasure’) Kant – Moral acts are those done from the motive of duty (free of inclination). Aristotle – Be a virtuous person.
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