Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View

Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View

Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View

Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View


Christine Swanton offers a new, comprehensive theory of virtue ethics which addresses the major concerns of modern ethical theory from a character-based perspective. Discussion of many problems in moral theory, such as moral constraints, rightness of action, the good life, the demandingness ofethics, the role of the subjective, and the practicality of ethics, has been dominated by Kantian and Consequentialist theories, with their own distinctive conceptual apparatus. Virtue Ethics shows how a different framework can shed new light on these intractable issues. Swanton's approach is distinctive in departing in siginificant ways from classical versions of virtue ethics derived primarily from Aristotle. Employing insights from Nietzsche and other sources, she argues against both eudaimonistic virtue ethics and traditional virtue ethical conceptions ofrightness. In developing a pluralistic view, she shows how different 'modes of moral acknowledgement' such as love, respect, appreciation, and creativity, are embedded in the very fabric of virtue, the moral life, and the good life.


This chapter introduces the basic elements of my pluralistic virtue ethics. Section (i) outlines the components of my account of virtue: my pluralistic conception of the modes of moral acknowledgement, the idea that these modes must express fine inner states if they are to manifest a state of virtue, the 'limits' of virtue (what I call the shape of the virtues), my pluralistic account of the bases of moral acknowledgement, and the concept of the target of a virtue and its connection with right action. Section (ii) further elaborates the nature of virtue by considering the 'deflationary challenge' of situationist personality psychology, which threatens to undermine virtue ethics by casting doubt on the very idea of character.

(a) The Definition of Virtue

I begin with a definition of virtue that, I shall claim, is shared not only by forms of virtue ethics that differ from my own (including eudaimonism) but by those virtue theorists who are not virtue ethicists.

A virtue is a good quality of character, more specifically a disposition to respond to, or acknowledge, items within its field or fields in an excellent or good enough way.

This definition of virtue is intended to be neutral with respect to a variety of virtue theories and virtue ethics: pluralistic and monistic, eudaimonistic and non-eudaimonistic. According to eudaimonism, though a virtue is a disposition to respond in an excellent or good enough way to items within its field or fields, it is at least a necessary condition of a trait being a virtue that it characteristically be good for the possessor of the virtue. Non-eudaimonistic views can also accept my definition of virtue.

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