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Annas, Julia, and . Applying Virtue to Ethics

2015, Journal of Applied Philosophy 32(1): 1-14.

Abstract: Virtue ethics is sometimes taken to be incapable of providing guidance for an individual’s actions, as some other ethical theories do. I show how virtue ethics does provide guidance for action, and also meet the objection that, while it may account for what we ought to do, it cannot account for the force of duty and obligation.

Comment: This article presents a fairly detailed proposal of how virtue ethics could be implemented practically as a means of action-guidance. It would be useful as part of an examination of how virtue ethics could work in the real world beyond its abstract principles. It requires the context of awareness of virtue ethics to be properly understood, but any student who has received an introduction to the central concepts of virtue ethics should be able to understand it, including undergraduates.

Athanassoulis, Nafsika, and . Virtue Ethics

2004, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Introduction: Virtue ethics is a broad term for theories that emphasize the role of character and virtue in moral philosophy rather than either doing one’s duty or acting in order to bring about good consequences. A virtue ethicist is likely to give you this kind of moral advice: “Act as a virtuous person would act in your situation.” Most virtue ethics theories take their inspiration from Aristotle who declared that a virtuous person is someone who has ideal character traits. These traits derive from natural internal tendencies, but need to be nurtured; however, once established, they will become stable. For example, a virtuous person is someone who is kind across many situations over a lifetime because that is her character and not because she wants to maximize utility or gain favors or simply do her duty. Unlike deontological and consequentialist theories, theories of virtue ethics do not aim primarily to identify universal principles that can be applied in any moral situation. And virtue ethics theories deal with wider questions—“How should I live?” and “What is the good life?” and “What are proper family and social values?”

Comment: A good preliminary introduction to the concept of virtue ethics, including a useful taxonomy of different types of virtue ethics including care ethics and eudaimonism as distinguished from agent-based approaches, information which is occasionally omitted from other sources. It also provides some historical background on the modern development of virtue ethics. It would be valuable as a starting point for examining various issues in virtue ethics, and any of the sections could be assigned individually for an introduction to specific topics.

Author(s) Unknown, and . Yue Ji 樂記—Record of Music: Introduction, Translation, Notes, and Commentary

1995, Asian Music 26(2): 1-96.

Summary: The earliest extant Chinese treatise on music. The Yue Ji presents largely Confucian ideas on the connections between music, self-cultivation, proper governance, and the realization of natural patterns. Human character is described as a musical progression with ties to the transformation of sound into a kind of music that is distinguished by its relationship to virtue. The exact identity of the author(s) is debated, and it is believed to have been compiled from various sources no later than the middle of the Western Han dynasty (206BCE-24CE).

Comment: This text is appropriate for an aesthetics (especially philosophy of music) and/or Chinese philosophy course. It is best accessed by a reader with a basic understanding of early Chinese philosophy (especially Confucianism).

Battaly, Heather, and . Virtue Epistemology

2008, Philosophy Compass 3(4): 639-663.

Abstract: What are the qualities of an excellent thinker? A growing new field, virtue epistemology, answers this question. Section I distinguishes virtue epistemology from belief-based epistemology. Section II explains the two primary accounts of intellectual virtue: virtue-reliabilism and virtue-responsibilism. Virtue-reliabilists claim that the virtues are stable reliable faculties, like vision. Virtue-responsibilists claim that they are acquired character traits, like open-mindedness. Section III evaluates progress and problems with respect to three key projects: explaining low-grade knowledge, high-grade knowledge, and the individual intellectual virtues.

Comment: This is a very helpful survey article on virtue epistemology covering works published between 1990 to early 2000s. This paper is most appropriate for beginners, offering an overview of the main problems and helping understand different positions of virtue epistemology.

Battaly, Heather, and . Developing virtue and rehabilitating vice:Worries about self-cultivation and self-reform

2016, Journal of Moral Education, 45(2): 207-222.

Abstract: Aristotelian virtue theorists have emphasized the role of the self in developing virtue and in rehabilitating vice. But this article argues that, as Aristotelians, we have placed too much emphasis on self-cultivation and self-reform. Self-cultivation is not required for developing virtue or vice. Nor will sophia-inspired self-reform jumpstart change in the vicious person. In each case, the external environment has an important role to play. One can unwittingly acquire virtues or vices from one’s environment. Likewise, a well-designed environment may be the key ingredient for jumpstarting change in the vicious person. Self-cultivation and late-stage self-reform are not ruled out, but the role of the self in character development and rehabilitation is not as exalted as we might have thought.

Comment: This is an interesting article offering a new view on promoting virtue and avoiding vice. Battaly believes that self-cultivation is not a necessary component of virtue. While her view is against most of virtue theories offered in the past, it is well founded and likely to provoke controversy in class.

Battaly, Heather, and . Epistemic Self-Indulgence

2010, Metaphilosophy 41(1): 214-234.

Abstract: I argue in this essay that there is an epistemic analogue of moral self-indulgence. Section 1 analyzes Aristotle’s notion of moral temperance, and its corresponding vices of self-indulgence and insensibility. Section 2 uses Aristotle’s notion of moral self-indulgence as a model for epistemic self-indulgence. I argue that one is epistemically self-indulgent only if one either: (ESI1) desires, consumes, and enjoys appropriate and inappropriate epistemic objects; or (ESI2) desires, consumes, and enjoys epistemic objects at appropriate and inappropriate times; or (ESI3) desires and enjoys epistemic objects too frequently, or to an inappropriately high degree, or consumes too much of them. We need not look far to locate the epistemically self-indulgent: philosophers, especially skeptics, are likely candidates.

Comment: This is an interesting article offering an analysis on the concept of an intellectual vice: epistemic self-indulgence. It will give the students an overview of the concept of intellectual self-indulgence, and an initial idea of how we could understand and work on individual vices. By providing concrete examples, this paper would make it easier for students to understand what virtue epistemology aims to achieve.

Dalmiya, Vrinda, and . Why should a knower care?

2002, Hypatia 17(1): 34--52.

Abstract: This paper argues that the concept of care is significant not only for ethics, but for epistemology as well. After elucidating caring as a five-step dyadic relation, I go on to show its epistemic significance within the general framework of virtue epistemology as developed by Ernest Sosa, Alvin Goldman, and Linda Zagzebski. The notions of “care-knowing” and “care-based epistemology” emerge from construing caring (respectively) as a reliabilist and responsibilist virtue.

Comment: This text is best used in epistemology classes when discussing virtue reliablist and responsibilist approaches, and epistemic success in general. It will also be useful in philosophy of science classes: Dalmiya argues for radical changes in our approach to scientific research, including a redefinition of the epistemic and moral constraints which guide it.

Hursthourse, Rosalind, and . On Virtue Ethics

2000, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Back Matter: Virtue ethics is perhaps the most important development within late twentieth-century moral philosophy. Rosalind Hursthouse, who has made notable contributions to this development, now presents a full exposition and defence of her neo-Aristotelian version of virtue ethics. She shows how virtue ethics can provide guidance for action, illuminate moral dilemmas, and bring out the moral significance of the emotions. Deliberately avoiding a combative stance, she finds less disagreement between Kantian and neo-Aristotelian approaches than is usual, and she offers the first account from a virtue ethics perspective of acting ‘from a sense of duty’. She considers the question which character traits are virtues, and explores how answers to this question can be justified by appeal to facts about human nature. Written in a clear, engaging style which makes it accessible to non-specialists, On Virtue Ethics will appeal to anyone with an interest in moral philosophy.

Comment: The Introduction provides an excellent overview of virtue ethics and its relations with other moral theories. It makes for a perfect main reading for units on virtue ethics in general ethics modules. Chapter 4 offers a valuable discussion of deontology, and other chapters are best used as further reading, or as main readings in modules devoted fully to virtue ethics.

Hursthouse, Rosalind, and . Virtue Ethics

2009, E. N. Zalta (ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy [electronic resource]

Introduction: Virtue ethics is currently one of three major approaches in normative ethics. It may, initially, be identified as the one that emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach which emphasizes duties or rules (deontology) or that which emphasizes the consequences of actions (consequentialism). Suppose it is obvious that someone in need should be helped. A utilitarian will point to the fact that the consequences of doing so will maximize well-being, a deontologist to the fact that, in doing so the agent will be acting in accordance with a moral rule such as “Do unto others as you would be done by” and a virtue ethicist to the fact that helping the person would be charitable or benevolent.
Three of virtue ethics’ central concepts, virtue, practical wisdom and eudaimonia are often misunderstood. Once they are distinguished from related but distinct concepts peculiar to modern philosophy, various objections to virtue ethics can be better assessed.

Comment: This text provides a good introduction to virtue ethics and an excellent bibliography of related and further readings.

Hursthouse, Rosalind, and . Normative Virtue Ethics

1996, in Roger Crisp (ed.), How Should One Live? Essays on the Virtues. Oxford University Press. 19-36.

Abstract: Shows that virtue ethics can specify right action and defends the view that the sort of practical guidance it provides accommodates several conditions of adequacy that any normative ethics should meet. It is argued that (1) it generates an account of moral education, (2) it incorporates the view that moral wisdom cannot simply be acquired from textbooks, and (3) it can resolve resolvable dilemmas or moral conflicts but is not committed in advance to there being no such things as irresolvable dilemmas.

Introduction: A common belief concerning virtue ethics is that it does not tell us what we should do. This belief is sometimes manifested merely in the expressed assumption that virtue ethics, in being ‘agent-centred’ rather than ‘act-centred’, is concerned with Being rather than Doing, with good (and bad) character rather than right (and wrong) action, with the question ‘What sort of person should I be?’ rather than the question ‘What should I do?’ On this assumption, ‘virtue ethics’ so-called does not figure as a normative rival to utilitarian and deontological ethics. Anyone who wants to espouse virtue ethics as a rival to deon­tological or utilitarian ethics will find this common belief voiced against her as an objection: ‘Virtue ethics does not, because it can­not, tell us what we should do. Hence it cannot be a normative rival to deontology and utilitarianism.’ This paper is devoted to defending virtue ethics against this objection.

Comment: This is an easy-to-understand, concise argument in favour of the viability of virtue ethics. It is a useful illustration of the practical application of Aristotelian moral theory and would aid students understanding of that type of view and its implications if assigned as a supplement. Easy to understand even for those relatively unfamiliar with the issues, it is suitable as part of a first introduction to virtue ethics for undergraduates.