The Fabric of Character: Aristotle's Theory of Virtue

The Fabric of Character: Aristotle's Theory of Virtue

The Fabric of Character: Aristotle's Theory of Virtue

The Fabric of Character: Aristotle's Theory of Virtue

Synopsis

Most traditional accounts of Aristotle's theory of ethical education neglect its cognitive aspects. This book asserts that, in Aristotle's view, excellence of character comprises both the sentiments and practical reason. Sherman focuses particularly on four aspects of practical reason as they relate to character: moral perception, choicemaking, collaboration, and the development of those capacities in moral education. Throughout the book, she is sensitive to contemporary moral debates, and indicates the extent to which Aristotle's account of practical reason provides an alternative to theories of impartial reason.

Excerpt

The focus of this work is on character. For Aristotle, as for us, the term has to do with a person's enduring traits; that is, with the attitudes, sensibilities, and beliefs that affect how a person sees, acts, and indeed lives. As permanent states, these will explain not merely why someone acted this way now, but why someone can be counted on to act in certain ways. In this sense, character gives a special sort of accountability and pattern to action. Following Aristotle, I will be concerned primarily with good character -- with the virtues that guide a good life. Not that Aristotle ignores vice: the virtues are, in all cases, relative to excesses which would lead a person, if not to moral turpitude, at least to foolishness or unsensible ways. But the description of these is in the service of showing what the good life is like -- what its constituents are and what sorts of persons are likely to lead it.

As a whole, the Aristotelian virtues comprise just and decent ways of living as a social being. Included will be the generosity of benefactor, the bravery of citizen, the goodwill and attentiveness of friends, the temperance of a nonlascivious life. But human perfection, on this view, ranges further, to excellences whose objects are less clearly the weal and woe of others, such as a healthy sense of humour and a wit that bites without malice or anger. In the common vernacular nowadays, the excellences of character cover a gamut that is more than merely moral. Good character -- literally, what pertains to ethics -- is thus more robust than a notion of goodwill or benevolence, common to many moral theories. The full constellation will also include the excellence of a divine-like contemplative activity, and the best sort of happiness will find a place for the pursuit of pure . . .

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