Virtue Ethics and the Nature and Forms of Egoism

Journal of Philosophical Research 35:275-303 (2010)
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Virtue ethics is often alleged to be egoistic, based upon its linking of virtue and happiness. Virtue ethicists often respond that their approach to the moral life is only “formally egoistic” and therefore not objectionable. This paper develops a clear, non-arbitrary definition of egoism (often lacking in these exchanges) as systematic pursuit of one’s own welfare, and then catalogues four broad egoistic strategies for achieving it. I identify “formal foundational egoism” as the one mostplausibly attributed to virtue ethics (its subtlety allows it to account for many features of the moral life, seemingly justifying Aristotelians in their admission that their theory is egoistic in this way). I show instead that any moral theory whose first principle is that each should pursue her own welfare is indeed objectionable. I conclude by showing how virtue ethics can avoid all forms of egoism by counseling the pursuit of perfection rather than welfare alone.



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Christopher H. Toner
University of St. Thomas, Minnesota

Citations of this work

The Role of Welfare in Eudaimonism.Anne Baril - 2013 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 51 (4):511-535.
Excellence-Prior Eudaimonism.Jennifer A. Herdt - 2019 - Journal of Religious Ethics 47 (1):68-93.
Agency, Patiency, and The Good Life: the Passivities Objection to Eudaimonism.Micah Lott - 2016 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (3):773-786.
Constructing a Good Life.Micah Lott - 2016 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 13 (3):363-375.

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References found in this work

Wittgenstein on meaning and use.James Conant - 1998 - Philosophical Investigations 21 (3):222–250.
Self-Conscious Individual versus Social Soul.Eike Von Savigny - 1991 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 51:67-84.

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