A compelling understanding of equality and difference in public life. Table of Contents. Cover Download Save. Frontmatter Download Save. Title page pp. Contents pp. Acknowledgments pp. Introduction pp. Chapter 1: Wonder and Generosity pp. According to Aristotle, an action is voluntary unless it is affected by force or ignorance , as understood in the following ways. Out of the blue, his passenger grabs his hand and forces him to turn the steering wheel, sending the car into oncoming traffic.
Without this physical force, Reuben would not have turned the wheel and he very much regrets the damage that is caused.
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David is told that if he does not open the safe then he will be killed. On this basis, David is not morally responsible in any way for the theft. However, in the days before the surprise concert his friend, unbeknown to Rhys, develops an intense and very personal dislike for Manilow. In this situation, Aristotle would accept that Rhys acted involuntarily when causing offence because he was unaware of the changed circumstances; he acted from ignorance when performing the song rather than from malice.
Without this epistemic or knowledge-related barrier, Rhys would not have acted as he did and he very much regrets the distress caused. For these reasons, Rhys bears no moral responsibility for the upset resulting from his song choice. However, for Aristotle this would not mean that his action was involuntary because Laurence acts in ignorance rather than from ignorance due to an external epistemic or knowledge-based barrier. Laurence does not, therefore, escape moral responsibility as a result of his self-created ignorance. The action cannot be voluntary as Rhys acted from ignorance, but it is not obviously involuntary as, without a sense of regret, it may have been that Rhys would have performed the action even if he knew what was going to happen.
The summary, however, is refreshingly simple. If an action is voluntary, then it is completed free from force and ignorance and we can hold the actor morally responsible.
However, if the action is involuntary then the actor is not morally responsible as they act on the basis of force or from ignorance. Wanting to know what to do you may consult the guidance offered by Utilitarianism or Kantian Ethics and discover that various specific actions you could undertake are morally right or morally wrong. Moving to seek the advice of Aristotelian Virtue Ethics, you may find cold comfort from suggestions that you act generously, patiently and modestly whilst avoiding self-serving flattery and envy.
Rather than knowing how to live in general, you may seek knowledge of what to actually do in this case. Virtue Ethics may therefore be accused of being a theory, not of helpful moral guidance, but of unhelpful and nonspecific moral platitudes. Who are the virtuous agents [that we should look to for guidance]? Whether or not you believe that this level of guidance is suitable for a normative moral theory is a judgment that you should make yourself and then defend.
Courageous behaviour may, in certain cases, mean a lack of friendliness; generosity may threaten modesty. A Formula One car, for example, will be good when it has both raw speed and delicate handling and it is up to the skilled engineer to steer a path between these two virtues.
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So too a person with practical wisdom can steer a path between apparently clashing virtues in any given situation. Virtue ethicists have no interest in the creation of a codified moral rule book covering all situations and instead put the onus on the skill of the virtuous person when deciding how to act. Again, whether this is a strength or weakness is for you to decide and defend. According to Aristotle, the following statements seem to be correct:.
An act is virtuous if it is an act that a virtuous person would commit in that circumstance. A person is virtuous when they act in virtuous ways.
If virtuous actions are understood in terms of virtuous people, but virtuous people are understood in terms of virtuous actions, then we have unhelpfully circular reasoning. Great piano playing is what great pianists do. It is not the case that whatever a great pianist plays will be great, but rather that great pianists have the skills to make great music.
So too it is with virtues, for virtuous people are not virtuous just because of their actual actions but because of who they are and how their actions are motivated. It is their skills and character traits that mean that, in practice, they provide a clear guide as to which actions are properly aligned with virtues. Thus, if we wish to decide whether or not an act is virtuous we can assess what a virtuous person would do in that circumstance, but this does not mean that what is virtuous is determined by the actions of a specifically virtuous individual. The issue is whether or not a person, with virtuous characteristics in the abstract, would actually carry that action out.
Virtuous people are living and breathing concrete guides, helping us to understand the actions associated with abstract virtuous character dispositions. A challenge to this view may be based on the fact that certain dispositions may seem to be virtuous but may not actually seem to contribute to our flourishing or securing the good life. Shelley is often described as generous to a fault and regularly dedicates large amounts of her time to helping others to solve problems at considerable cost, in terms of both time and effort, to herself.
Working beyond the limits that can reasonably be expected of her, we may wish to describe Shelley as virtuous given her generous personality. However, by working herself so hard for others, we may wonder if Shelley is unduly limiting her own ability to flourish. We may say that Shelley has either succumbed to a vice of excess and is profligate with her time rather than generous, or we may accept that she is generous rather than profligate and accept the uncomfortable conclusion and say that this virtuous character trait is helping her to flourish. This second claim may seem more plausible if we ruled out a description of Shelley wasting her time.
You should consider your own possible cases if you seek to support this general objection. After all, a virtuous person will be charitable and friendly etc. Hedonism which claims that pleasure is the only source of well-being — see Chapter 1 , as a rival theory attempting to outline what is required for well-being, might be thought to fail because it downplays the importance of acting in accordance with reason, so hedonists do not therefore live according to their telos or true function.
On the contrary, the non-virtuous person will have a psychology in conflict between their rational and non-rational elements. In considering who has the better life from their own individual perspectives — the happy Hedonist or the Aristotelian virtuous person — you should again form your own reasoned judgment. However, for Aristotle, being virtuous is necessary for the achievement of eudaimonia ; without the development of virtues it is impossible for a person to flourish even if they avoid poverty, disease, loneliness etc.
Whether this, in itself, is a virtue or a vice is an issue for your own judgment. The lack of a codified and fixed moral rule book is something many view as a flaw, while others perceive it as the key strength of the theory. Regardless, there is little doubt that Aristotelian Virtue Ethics offers a distinct normative moral picture and that it is a theory worthy of your reflections.
Misunderstanding the function of a human being eudaimonia. Incorrect differentiation between voluntary, involuntary and nonvoluntary actions. Claiming that Virtue Ethics offers no guidance whatsoever in moral situations. Claiming that Virtue Ethics is uninterested in actions. Who has the better life — the happy hedonist or the virtuous individual?
Are the virtues fixed and absolute? Or can virtues be relative to culture and time? Is becoming moral a skill? Is the Golden Mean a useful way of working out virtuous characteristics? Are some virtues more important than others? Can you think of a virtue that does not contribute to eudaimonia?
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Can you think of something that contributes to eudaimonia that is not a virtue? If there is no purpose to life, is there any point in subscribing to Aristotelian Virtue Ethics? What should you do if virtues seem to clash when faced with different possible actions? Who might count as virtuous role models and why?
Do human beings have a telos or proper function? Panin, Thoughts , p. Durant, The Story of Philosophy , p. Annas, Intelligent Virtue. Creative Commons - Attribution 4. You can suggest to your library or institution to subscribe to the program OpenEdition Freemium for books.
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