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3 - Virtue Ethics

from Part I - Intellectual Sources and Disciplinary Engagements

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 May 2023

James Laidlaw
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

Virtue ethics has been a key concern of some important modern thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Bernard Williams, Martha Nussbaum, and Alasdair MacIntyre. Anthropologists have disagreed strongly over whether the categories developed by such writers are useful or a source of ethnocentric distortion when applied to ethnographic and comparative work. This chapter argues for a middle course. Virtue seems to be a universal concern, but in order to understand it cross-culturally it will be necessary to develop a ‘virtue ethics as such’: an understanding that transcends the culture-bound assumptions of modern virtue ethicists. At the same time, those thinkers were concerned to escape from certain limited ways of thinking about ethics that have also stunted anthropological work on morality, so they may provide a uniquely useful starting point for our investigations. Having set this challenge, the chapter goes on to provide some preliminary thoughts on how an anthropology of virtue ethics as such could be pursued, considering concepts such as ‘exemplarity’ and ‘the fragility of the good’ from a comparative point of view, drawing on Confucian, Buddhist, and other traditions.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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  • Virtue Ethics
  • Edited by James Laidlaw, University of Cambridge
  • Book: The Cambridge Handbook for the Anthropology of Ethics
  • Online publication: 11 May 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108591249.003
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  • Virtue Ethics
  • Edited by James Laidlaw, University of Cambridge
  • Book: The Cambridge Handbook for the Anthropology of Ethics
  • Online publication: 11 May 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108591249.003
Available formats
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  • Virtue Ethics
  • Edited by James Laidlaw, University of Cambridge
  • Book: The Cambridge Handbook for the Anthropology of Ethics
  • Online publication: 11 May 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108591249.003
Available formats
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