Plato's Craft of Justice

Plato's Craft of Justice

Plato's Craft of Justice

Plato's Craft of Justice

Excerpt

There has been much interest lately in virtue ethics. Part of the reason for this interest is the notion that modern ethical theories concentrate too much on actions, the rules that govern actions, and the consequences of actions. By contrast, virtue ethics concentrates on the person who performs the actions; the focus of its moral assessment is the agent of the action and the dispositions of that agent. In turn, the moral assessment of the agent and her dispositions allows us to make the vital connection between morality and the question of the sort of person the agent is. Virtue ethics makes a clearer link between the issue of morality and the issue of leading a successful human life. In what has turned out to be a long career of teaching bright and inquiring undergraduate students, I have noticed that these students become fascinated with philosophy when it does what it was originally intended to do. In the case of the Republic, they appreciate this text at the point where Plato says something important about how to lead a life that one would want to call "worthwhile." Unlike philosophers who seem to be taken up by intellectual puzzles, remote from the trials of negotiating a good life from one end to the other, Plato seems to be taken up with the most important question: what sort of person should I be or become? As I attempted to explicate this aspect of his moral theory, it became increasingly clear to me that the analogy between craft and virtue was the key to understanding what Plato was trying to tell us. The moral life was, just as Socrates had said, a kind of craft performance. The craftsman of the moral life knows the materials with which he works; he knows how to put these materials together so that the result--his life--is not only useful but even elegant. Such a life is happy--prosperous, fortunate, flourishing--because it is the conscious construct of someone with a craftlike knowledge.

However, the use of the notion of craft is not only of historical interest; I believe it also holds much insight for our own understanding of virtue. Perhaps another way of putting the last point . . .

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