Sacrifice in Eudaimonistic Virtue Ethics

In Elisa Grimi, John Haldane, Maria Margarita Mauri Alvarez, Michael Wladika, Marco Damonte, Michael Slote, Randall Curren, Christian B. Miller, Liezl Zyl, Christopher D. Owens, Scott J. Roniger, Michele Mangini, Nancy Snow & Christopher Toner (eds.), Virtue Ethics: Retrospect and Prospect. Springer. pp. 197-207 (2019)
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Abstract

Impartial moral theories must deal with the Problem of the Demandingness of Morality—the worry that impartial moral requirements will be so demanding upon an agent’s time and resources that she will not be able to pursue her own flourishing, a good human life as she conceives it. Proponents of eudaimonistic virtue ethics must confront an inverted form of the demandingness objection, namely that their theory is not demanding enough, does not require that agents ever sacrifice their own good. Of course, the requirements of virtues such as justice, generosity, and courage frequently call for much to be sacrificed, but never for agents to sacrifice their pursuit of the good life as they see it. Everything is done for the sake of eudaimonia, so whatever sacrifices agents do make are made for the sake of eudaimonia—and thus, it seems, for the sake of a greater good for the agents themselves. After considering and finding inadequate a range of responses that are analogous to common responses to the problem of demandingness, I outline what I take to be the correct response to the inverted demandingness objection, which is to make clear that the pursuit of eudaimonia is itself a sacrifice; it is indeed the sacrifice of the agent’s whole life. The word “sacrifice” derives from Latin words meaning to make holy, to dedicate something to the divine. More generally, we can say that it is to dedicate something to the good—to a person, community, or cause insofar as it is good. I argue that to live a life of virtue is to sacrifice oneself, is to dedicate oneself to the good. Eudaimonistic virtue ethics never requires of a virtuous agent that she sacrifice by turning aside from her pursuit of flourishing for moral reasons, because this pursuit already is the sacrifice of herself for moral reasons. Eudaimonistic virtue ethics, of course, is not a theory but a family of theories, and not all of them are amenable to this response to the inverted demandingness objection. But for those that are—if they are vulnerable to a demandingness objection, it is not the objection in its inverted form.

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Christopher H. Toner
University of St. Thomas, Minnesota

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