How Should One Live? Essays on the Virtues

By Roger Crisp | Go to book overview
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5
Kant's Virtues

ONORA O'NEILL

Most proponents of virtue ethics in recent years find little to admire in Kantian ethics, which they depict as rigidly rule-governed, unable to take account of differences between persons and cases, based on unconvincing accounts of self, freedom, and action, burdened with an excessive individualism, fixated on rights, and specifically unable to give an adequate account of the virtues.1 Some, if not all, of these and kindred accusations may be true of those recent liberal theories of justice which are conventionally labelled 'Kantian', many of which indeed say nothing about the virtues. However, it is less obvious whether or how far they apply to Kant's ethics. In particular, Kant thought that his conception of practical reasoning could be used to develop an account of virtue as well as one of justice. He presents this account in some detail in the second part of the Metaphysic of Morals2 and frequently alludes to and elaborates it in other works. Of course, what Kant offers under the heading of a 'Doctrine of Virtue' (Tugendlehre) may have all the inadequacies commonly attributed to Kantian ethics. Or it may not.

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1
The accusations are to be found in a wide range of works, and have been particularly prominent in communitarian writings and discussions of virtue ethics during the last decade. See, for example, A. MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory ( London, 1981); M. Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice ( Cambridge, 1982); L. W. Blum, Friendship, Altruism and Morality ( London, 1980).
2
The assumed tension between theories of justice and accounts of the virtues is foreshadowed in the history of Kant Metaphysik der Sitten. Its two parts, the Meta- physische Anfangsgründe der Rechtslehre (usually: Rechtslehre) and the Tugendlehre, did not appear in a single volume in Kant's lifetime, and appeared in a single volume in English only recently ( The Metaphysics of Morals, tr. M. Gregor ( Cambridge, 1991)). A recent critical edition of the Rechtslehre argues that the original printing--and all subsequent editions--muddled the sequence of Kant's text, and seeks to reconstruct a more perspicuous version; see Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Rechtslehre ed. B. Ludwig ( Hamburg, 1986). This reconstruction is important for the Tugendlehre too, since the most substantial alternations proposed are in the introduction to the entire work.

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