- The Routledge Companion to Virtue Ethics eds. by Lorraine Besser-Jones and Michael Slote
The Routledge Companion to Virtue Ethics, edited by Lorraine Besser-Jones and Michael Slote, is unusual among the recent crop of handbooks, encyclopedias, and compendiums in philosophy in a couple of respects. First, as well as presenting up-to-date surveys of the field, the Companion includes a number of entries that also engage in argument and negotiate tensions between different positions—some even questioning the nature of virtue ethics (VE) itself. These chapters are particularly interesting as they demonstrate the use of philosophical methodology in debates about VE. Second, the volume engages with non-Western (primarily Chinese) perspectives on virtue theory and VE, with several chapters showing the potentially [End Page 639] rich contributions VE can make to East-West engagement on conceptions of agency, character, right actions, dispositions, emotions, and the question of a good life.
The Companion comprises thirty-six chapters organized in four parts. Part 1, "History of Virtue Ethics," includes chapters on the nature and scope of VE insofar as we can comfortably identify and locate them in different traditions: ancient Greek, ancient Chinese, Hindu, Buddhist, Augustinian, Thomistic, Humean, and Nietzschean. These chapters clarify, and complicate, how and what we think about VE—indeed, a section title such as "Scope of Virtue Ethics" might be more fitting than "History." Interesting issues raised in part 1 include: the gaps and vagueness in Aristotle's account of virtue (Frede); what an agent-based Yoga ethics might look like (Perrett and Pettigrove); Mencian VE characterized as a theory of moral foundations (Luo); potential tensions in a Buddhist account of virtue (Goodman); Xunzi's ritual propriety grounded in emotions and its potential contributions to VE (Hutton); and how Augustinian holiness may not sit comfortably with elements of VE (Wetzel).
The chapters in part 2, "Contemporary Approaches," present a broad array of debates in VE. Discussions relevant to comparative philosophy include the following: the tension between pursuing virtue for its own sake and seeking the pleasures that accompany virtue's pursuit (van Zyl); empathetic concern for others as a criterion of right action (Frazer and Slote); the exercise of practical wisdom in dealing with a plurality of virtues (Swanton); different positions in theological VE (Herdt); deontological and VE interpretations of Confucian philosophy (Elstein); and the connections between VE and Virtue Epistemology (VEp)—for example the place of open-mindedness and receptivity in an account of epistemic virtue (Battaly and Slote).
For this reader, the "Critical Interactions" (part 3) contains the most interesting discussions in the Companion. The contributors work through a number of important, and sometimes tenuous, relationships between VE and aspects of morality and/or moral theory. Collectively, they demonstrate the value and reach of VE, especially the way it exposes gaps and limitations of other moral theories. Some contributors also highlight challenges confronting VE and how variant accounts of VE might address these. One question discussed, for instance, is whether, from the perspective of Kantian anthropology (i.e., its awareness of the human condition), VE's eudaimonism is too optimistic in positing that happiness and virtue are coincident (Wood). An other contributor (Driver) asks: what might a consequentialist virtue theory look like? From the perspective of a lived moral life, another (Das) questions what is distinctive about VE if it cannot reliably motivate right action? And there are further interrogations. Can we articulate accounts of VE or character able to withstand the challenges posed by situationist psychological research (Besser-Jones)? How does VE stand in relation to feminist care ethics (Noddings) and to role ethics (Garcia)?
Part 4, "Applications," considers ways in which VE can inform debates in applied ethics, including the environment (Carfaro), world VE (Angle), moral education (Curren), political philosophy (Xiao), law (Solum), medicine (Walker), and business (Audi). [End Page 640]
I will discuss four specific ways in which the discussions in the Companion can contribute to comparative philosophy.