Virtue: some ad hoc thoughts.

One of my previous posts concerned ‘Socrates’ question’. To repeat it, it basically is phrased as ‘How do I live?’ or ‘What is the good life?’ Socrates considered that to be the criterion of philosophy, I consider it to be the criterion of ethics. A lot of people, with good reason, consider it the most important question, or if not that, the answer of that question to be most important; be that answer money, or love or power.

I shall consider the oldest response to that question. Virtue. Let me state the different schools that give a kind of answer to Socrates’ question:

Virtue: Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Foot, Anscombe, Quinn

Duty: Kant, Korsgaard,

Happiness: Epicurus, Bentham, Mill, Singer

I am Kantian in frame, but not completely. I shall consider today the most intuitive of answers; virtue.

How does virtue answer Socrates’ question? The insight is very simple, if you are virtuous, you become happy/fullfilled (Eudaimonia).

There are so many different kinds of virtue ethics, and I am not an expert on them. Since it is the oldest tradition, it goes through thousands of years of literature.

Let me concentrate on the nature of virtue. Virtue is an eminent quality in a person, a courageous person, a chaste person, a brave person, and so on. It is through these eminences that one achieves a good life. It almost seems too easy to refute.

Another point, virtue ethics was best formulated by Aristotle, and it has a lot of problems like teleological metaphysics being presupposed. Many recent writers try to save Aristotle from himself in many ways.

The virtues of one period have changed in others. Back in the day it was virtuous to be a chaste until marriage, nowadays it is virtuous to be sexual. Before it was virtuous to be pious to the Gods, now it is almost irrelevant. This frivolous nature of normative virtues worries me, a life seems less meaningful if it were based on transitive norms (or transitive facts, for that matter).

Some good things to read about virtues are virtually all of Plato’s dialogues (each concerns themselves with a particular virtue), Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and Anscombe’s ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’, which blew open a hole in western ethics that philosophers are trying to fix.

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