Teach the Children Well: On Virtue and its Benefits

Journal of Moral Philosophy 14 (6):734-760 (2017)
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Abstract

What connection (if any) is there between living well, in the sense of living a life of ethical virtue, and faring well, in the sense of living a life that is good for the agent whose life it is? Philosophical arguments that attempt to defend a connection between exercising the virtues and living a good life typically display two commitments: first, a commitment to addressing their answer to the person whose life is in question and, second, a commitment to showing that virtue is what I call a reliability conferring property. I urge we reject both. I propose instead that we take up the question from the point of view of a person charged with the care of the character of another (an “ethical trustee”) and argue that virtue is what I call a status conferring property. Ethical trustees benefit their charges by inculcating the virtues because in doing so they bestow on them a status that is necessary for a good life. Although circumstances may conspire against the path of virtue proving to be the best bet, statistically speaking, for happiness, my account begins to make sense of the thought that when such tragedies come to pass the fault lies not in the agent but the world.

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