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A FAOT ABOUT THE VIRTUES A. CHADWICK RAY Oentrai OoUege Peila, Iowa PHILIPPA FOOT remarks in Virtues and Vices that "with the nota;ble exception of Peter Gea;ch hardly 100.yone sees ·any difficulty in the thought that virtues may sometimes be di·splayed in bald ructions." 1 That a man may use his courage to deplorable ends; that 'a tea.ah.er ma.y show charity in igiving a miudent undeserved credit-these seem to ibe hardly problema.tic possibilities. Yet Aquinas upholds •a definition of morrul virtue as " a good quality o[ the mind, by which we live rightly, of whioh no one cain make bad use, ..."2 And Aristotle's conception of the man Ol:f p:riactica:l reason as the standard of moral virtue likewise seems to p!'lec1ude a virtue 's being misused.3 Times change, and rupparently eV'en virtue is not what it used to be. Nevertheless I mean here to survey the resour.ces of moral psyichology in the tradition of .Airistotle to see what sort of grounding can be found for the no-bad-use thesis. Presumably Geach stamds wlmost 1 afone today on this question , because the more traditional view would seem defensible only if it is taken as analytic. We could stipulate that an action wilil be called virtuous only if on balance it is the wisest alternative aivaifaible to the agent, but the utility of such a l Philippa Foot, Virtues and Vices (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 15. In After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 216, Macintyre finds Hume, Kant, Mill, and Rawls taking virtues as dispositions to conform to certain rules. To the extent that rules are unreliable, the virtues will be too. 2 Aquinas, Summa theoiogiae, I-II, q.55, a.4. a Aristotle, Nioomaohean Flthios 1106b36-7a2, 1113a30-31. 430 A. CHADWICK RAY concept would be doubtfrnl, and 'virtue' would seem to name no real thing. The'1'e are, after aH, appwrently anomalous cases, as wihen a teacher is moved to indulgence by an undeserving student's plea and seems to show kindness to a fault. The deifense oif the no-bad-use thesis requires us to deny that real kindness is shown here. But if no better justification for the denia~ can be offered than that the action is wrong and so cannot be virtuous, the thesis wil:l express only an a11bitrary decision about how to use 'virtue ' and related terms. But if such deni1als can he justified by appeal to facts about human nature, then the no.:brud-use thesis itself may perhaps be taken a;s descriptive of certain realities constitutive of human life. After considel'ing some of the conditions of vir:tuous action and the possibility of degrees of virtue (section III), I shaill argue (IV and V) that the opening sentence of Aristotle 's Nicomachean Ethics affords a bctua:l ba;sis for sustaining the no-had-use thesis as descriptive of virtues as we find them; that if "every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good " is perhaps an overstatement, still the humanness and intelligibility of an action would seem to depend on its aiming at some good; and that it is largely by trying to consider actions independently of the goods they aim a;t that we imagine virtues able to se1we unworthy ends. Payffig fuH rega11d to the purposiveness of human action and the desires expressed in it will also make it possible (VI) to avnid oonoluding with Aristotle that the virtues are inseparable from eaich other. I conclude (VII) with some brief refteetion on the meaning of my departures from Aristotle. Before offering my own interpretation of the Aristotelian resources, though, I briefly contend for the reality of moral virtues (as tiraditiona1ly understood ) against conventioIJJa1ist interpretations ('section I) and then (H) consider an ailtemative account (roughly Geach's) of the nature of the virtues that would sa¥e the no-bad-use thesis. A FACT ABOUT THE VIRTUES 431 I. Virtues as Teleological Di8}Jositions Why indeed speak of vi1rtues at a1l? Behavior would seem to be describahle and e:x:p1a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 429-451
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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