Virtue and Moral Agency

Dissertation, Cornell University (2001)

Any complete account of moral action and choice requires an account of the character of moral agents. In particular, it requires an account of the role of virtue in moral agency. Virtue theory provides responses to four types of objections to deontological and consequentialist theories of right action. First, the model of deliberation available to these views does not explain how agents deliberate to a moral choice. Second, the justification that agents would offer under deontological and consequentialist accounts is one that alienates agents from connections and concerns for particular others. Third, complete satisfaction of deontological and consequentialist moral requirements may demand that agents relinquish what they most care about. Fourth, agents who attempt to help others by utilizing general moral principles alone may undermine or dishonor the autonomy of those they attempt to help. The objections illuminate central questions about agency but they do not show that the theories are inadequate as theories of right action. While virtue theory is sometimes presented by its defenders as a full-fledged rival to deontological and consequentialist theory, I argue that a plausible version of virtue theory must retain a key element typically taken to characterize deontological theory: a role for general justifying principles. General principles will not be enough to account for agency, however. The true moral theory must presuppose an account of the virtues in order to complete its account of moral deliberation and choice
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