- Beyond the Self: Virtue Ethics and the Problem of Culture ed. by Raymond Hain
Beyond the Self is a collection of twelve essays, written by different authors, which displays the contributions of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition of virtue ethics to contemporary moral philosophy. The collection originated in a 2014 conference celebrating the career of University of Notre Dame Associate Professor of Philosophy W. David Solomon, now emeritus. Seven of the essays are versions of papers that were delivered at the conference; most of them were written by past graduate students of Solomon who are now accomplished scholars themselves. Four of the essays were commissioned separately. The collection has three main sections: Historical Themes, Normative Ethics, and Ethics and Culture. It concludes with an essay by Solomon in which he seeks to weave together and extend some of his previous work on the historical and conceptual development of twentieth-century virtue ethics.
The essays in this volume are uniformly interesting and excellent in quality. Some of the arguments may not be convincing to some readers, even to those who work in the same intellectual tradition. One reason for this may be the Notre Dame factor—that is, the mostly implicit theological commitments that shape several of the essays. In any case, the arguments are serious and expressed with admirable clarity. Readers are thus spurred to sharpen their own arguments through active and critical engagement with the text. It is a pleasure to read the book from cover to cover, which is rare among edited volumes; the editor deserves praise. Several additional features of the book stand out and give it special value. I can touch on only a few of these. In the process, I will indicate a portion of the range of topics and some of the modes of analysis that readers can expect to find in the text.
Beyond the Self reflects Solomon’s career-long interest in the work of British analytical philosopher G. E. M. Anscombe. The editor’s introduction and several of the essays signal broad agreement on the importance of Anscombe’s scholarship to the recent history of philosophical ethics. More specifically, the contributors agree that the publication of Anscombe’s 1958 article “Modern Moral Philosophy” was a watershed event in twentieth-century Anglophone analytic ethics. The questions that Anscombe raises and the bold theses that she puts forward are clearly part of the undercurrent of Beyond the Self and periodically bubble up for explicit treatment. Anscombe’s textual presence gives the volume added cohesion. It also encourages readers to place familiar metaethical and normative debates in historical perspective.
Solomon’s essay is directly concerned with Anscombe’s way of conceiving the relationship between deontological, consequentialist, and virtue-theoretical approaches to ethics. He argues that “Anscombian virtue ethics” is “radical,” as opposed to “routine,” in ways that distinguish it vis-à-vis many other ethics of virtue. What makes it radical, in his judgment, is that (among other things) it minimizes the differences between deontological and consequentialist moral theories by noting that both focus intently on moral [End Page 658] obligations to act according to principles while following prescribed decision-making procedures. On Solomon’s reading, Anscombe sets virtue ethics up, not only in distinction from these other approaches, but in “opposition” to them—a move that Solomon affirms. “Opposition” in exactly what sense, and in what respects, are topics that need further clarification.
Thomas Hibbs’s essay critiques Solomon’s conception of, and his advocacy for, “radical” virtue ethics, focusing especially on the matter of “opposition.” Hibbs turns to Aquinas and argues, much like Alasdair MacIntyre, that virtue and law both play critical roles in Aquinas’s account of morality, most notably in his analysis of the virtue of justice. Virtues and action-guiding principles or precepts—most notably, moral prohibitions—are not antithetical for Aquinas; they are interdependent, and both are necessary parts of a complete moral theory. Thus, argues Hibbs, it is important to distinguish...