The Function of Aristotle's Virtues

Bijdragen 66 (2):196-212 (2005)
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The detail with which Aristotle discusses the moral virtues might suggest that he is adopting some version of the theory which in our own day is described as ‘virtue ethics’. I shall argue that his emphasis on the importance of proper character formation does not imply the this rather than actions is the primary focus of ethics. Similarly, it will be argued that Aristotle does not intend to suggest that consideration of the virtues offers a much more promising approach to difficult moral issues than is provided by considering moral principles and their complex inter-relationships. And, though Aristotle does in one passage say that it is moral virtue – and hence emotional response – which makes the end of our actions right, it would be a mistake to think of him as a kind of proto-Humean. Aristotle does find a role for moral principles, for deliberation, and for practical wisdom as an intellectual virtue. At the heart of his account is a subtle and complex relationship between emotion, insight, and reasoning. His view of moral decision making is both more startling and more defensible than one might expect.



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