Minimum Circumstances Necessary for Virtue and Happiness

Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 76 (1):237-260 (2020)
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What are the worst conditions under which someone can be virtuous and happy? In this paper, I argue that a minimum threshold of favorable circumstances is necessary for moral virtue and human flourishing or happiness. Stoic and Aristotelian traditions make different and important claims about the role of external circumstances in our moral lives. Retrieving the ancient dispute benefits contemporary ethics. For one, the relevance of external circumstances is an important question for the development of present-day virtue ethics. For another, identifying the minimal ingredients for virtue and happiness is helpful for wider ethical concerns such as discussions of our moral obligations to future generations. After explaining the ancient dispute, I describe categories of circumstances that seem intuitively relevant to virtue and happiness. Then, I investigate which are necessary and examine commonsense examples. I conclude that a minimum threshold of favorable circumstances from the following categories is necessary: the necessities for biological life, cognitive ability, and moral education.



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Benjamin Hole
University of Washington

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References found in this work

Health as a theoretical concept.Christopher Boorse - 1977 - Philosophy of Science 44 (4):542-573.
Can I be ill and happy?Havi Carel - 2007 - Philosophia 35 (2):95-110.
Aristotle on friendship and the shared life.Nancy Sherman - 1987 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 47 (4):589-613.
Virtue ethics: What kind of naturalism?Julia Annas - 2005 - In Stephen Mark Gardiner (ed.), Virtue Ethics, Old and New. Cornell University Press. pp. 11--29.

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