How Should One Live? Essays on the Virtues

By Roger Crisp | Go to book overview
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Deadly Vices?


The vices, I take it, are the opposites of the virtues. This does not imply that every vice can neatly be paired off with a virtue. But it does imply that where virtues are thought to be beneficial, vices are harmful; while virtues are thought to contribute to human good and to be needed in human life, vices on the contrary are corruptive of such good and are an obstacle to human flourishing. Given these general descriptions both may then be classified according to who precisely benefits or is harmed by the exercise of a particular virtue or vice, whether or not its exercise requires a certain type of motivation, or what sorts of unfortunate human inclination they respectively counterbalance or encourage. So we may for instance identify a class of 'social virtues' necessary for the smooth running of society; a class of 'other-regarding virtues' the exercise of which is intended to benefit particular persons other than the agent herself, and where each exercise has to be motivated by concern for that other in order to count as an instance of a relevant virtue; and a class of what are sometimes labelled 'self-regarding virtues', which do not require such motivation and which, while they may or may not benefit others, are thought to profit primarily the agent herself.1 The vices may be grouped similarly: some may be undermining of a harmonious fife in society, some may harm individuals other than the person acting viciously, and some may be destructive mainly of that person herself.

An account of the virtues should explain in precisely what way they are needed in human life, and the extent to which we have reason for

Classifications along these lines, though not always so labelled, are suggested by, e.g., G. H. von Wright, The Varieties of Goodness ( London, 1963), ch. 7; P. Foot, "'Virtues and Vices'", in her Virtues and Vices ( Oxford, 1978), 1-18; J. Wallace, Virtues and Vices ( Ithaca, NY, 1978), preface.


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How Should One Live? Essays on the Virtues


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