Shaftesbury's Philosophy of Religion and Ethics: A Study in Enthusiasm

By Stanley Grean | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER TWELVE
The NATURE of VIRTUE

The most difficult aspect of Shaftesbury's thought to present systematically is his ethical theory. Many share the judgment of D. D. Raphael that there is "in fact no concise or coherently thought-out theory of a moral sense" or of morality in general in Shaftesbury. 1 It cannot be denied that there is truth in this; yet the question is one of degree—the extent to which Shaftesbury failed to construct a coherent ethical system. At the same time, his discussion of ethical issues remains one of those that are more interesting, precisely because of the kind of synthesis he attempted to make and because of the rich and suggestive variety of his insights. It is not surprising that the Characteristics served both as a mine of ideas and as a major stimulus to the discussion of moral issues in the eighteenth century.

Though Shaftesbury is best known as the founder of the moral sense school of ethics, and though the analysis of that moral faculty is of key importance in examining his theory, his primary aim was the construction of a theory of the nature of virtue, as the title, "Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit", indicates. He concerns himself particularly with the question of what makes for good character or what determines "merit."

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