Silencing, Psychological Conflict, and the Distinction Between Virtue and Self-Control

The Journal of Ethics 26 (1):93-114 (2022)
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According to many virtue ethicists, one of Aristotle’s important achievements was drawing a clear, qualitative distinction between the character traits of temperance and self-control. In an influential series of papers, John McDowell has argued that a clear distinction between temperance and self-control can be maintained only if one claims that, for the virtuous individual, considerations in favor of actions that are contrary to virtue are “silenced.” Some virtue ethicists reject McDowell’s silencing view as offering an implausible or inappropriate picture of human virtue, but they argue that virtue can still be clearly distinguished from self-control by the absence of motivational conflict alone. In this paper, I argue that this criticism of McDowell is at most half right. If the silencing view is false, so that virtue can have a cost and the virtuous person can justifiably feel negative emotions in response to that cost, there is no principled reason why the virtuous person cannot also have motivational conflict. So, if one rejects the silencing view, then one must allow that the distinction between virtue and self-control is at most a matter of degree.

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Matthew Haug
William & Mary

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References found in this work

The moral problem.Michael Smith - 1994 - Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell.
On Virtue Ethics.Rosalind Hursthouse - 1999 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Virtue and Reason.John Mcdowell - 1979 - The Monist 62 (3):331-350.
Mind, Value, and Reality.John Henry McDowell - 1998 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Persons, Character, and Morality.Bernard Williams - 1976 - In James Rachels (ed.), Moral Luck: Philosophical Papers 1973–1980. Cambridge University Press.

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