Moral cacophony: When continence is a virtue

The Journal of Ethics 7 (4):339-363 (2003)
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Abstract

Contemporary virtue ethicists widely accept thethesis that a virtuous agent''s feelings shouldbe in harmony with her judgments about what sheshould do and that she should find virtuousaction easy and pleasant. Conflict between anagent''s feelings and her actions, by contrast,is thought to indicate mere continence – amoral deficiency. This ``harmony thesis'''' isgenerally taken to be a fundamental element ofAristotelian virtue ethics.I argue that the harmony thesis, understoodthis way, is mistaken, because there areoccasions where a virtuous agent will findright action painful and difficult. What thismeans is that the generally accepteddistinction between continence and virtue isunsupportable. This conclusion affects severalwell-known accounts of virtuous action,including those of Philippa Foot and JohnMcDowell. A closer look at Aristotle, however, providesanother way of distinguishing betweencontinence and virtue, based in hiscategorization of goods as noble or base. Iargue that virtue is exhibited when anagent''s feelings harmonize with his correctjudgments of value, while discrepancies betweenfeelings and correct judgments of valueindicate continence. This understanding ofcontinence and virtue enables us to accommodatethe problem cases I raise.

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Karen Stohr
Georgetown University

Citations of this work

Freedom, Harmony & Moral Beauty.Ryan P. Doran - forthcoming - Philosophers' Imprint.
Moral Anxiety and Moral Agency.Charlie Kurth - 2015 - Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 5:171-195.
Emotion.Charlie Kurth - 2022 - New York, NY: Routledge.
An Aristotelian Model of Moral Development.Wouter Sanderse - 2015 - Journal of Philosophy of Education 49 (3):382-398.

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References found in this work

Virtue and Reason.John McDowell - 1997 - In Roger Crisp & Michael Slote (eds.), Virtue Ethics. Oxford University Press.
Are Moral Requirements Hypothetical Imperatives?John McDowell & I. G. McFetridge - 1978 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 52 (1):13-42.
Are Moral Requirements Hypothetical Imperatives?John McDowell & I. G. McFetridge - 1978 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 52 (1):13-42.
Virtues and vices.Philippa Foot - 1997 - In Daniel Statman (ed.), Virtue Ethics: A Critical Reader. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 163--177.
Profiles of the Virtues.Christine Swanton - 1995 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 76 (1):47-72.

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