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Perfecting Virtue
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In western philosophy today, the three leading approaches to normative ethics are those of Kantian ethics, virtue ethics and utilitarianism. In recent years the debate between Kantian ethicists and virtue ethicists has assumed an especially prominent position. The twelve newly commissioned essays in this volume, by leading scholars in both traditions, explore key aspects of each approach as related to the debate, and identify new common ground but also real and lasting differences between these approaches. The volume provides a rich overview of the continuing debate between two powerful forms of enquiry, and will be valuable for a wide range of students and scholars working in these fields.


"...contributions to Perfecting Virtue are interesting and well-written, and for that reason alone the essays are worth reading. The primary value and relevance of the book however, lies less with the individual contributions, than with the combined effect of these essays on the reader..."
--Carsten Fogh Nielsen, Ph.D., University of Aarhus, Metapsychology Online Reviews

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  • 1 - Virtue ethics in relation to Kantian ethics: an opinionated overview and commentary
    pp 8-37
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    This chapter offers a historical and introductory overview of contemporary virtue ethics. It suggests that many of the criticisms from which contemporary virtue ethics emerged as an alternative approach are less apt as criticisms of utilitarianism or Kantian ethics than as criticisms of the current state of moral philosophy. The chapter provides a map for the novice, situating virtue ethics in relation to care ethics. It analyzes the obstacles to addressing the question of whether Kantian ethics and virtue ethics are compatible, and examines some threads of the critique of modern ethics. Christine Swanton's Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View spares one the task of working through the now vast literature to figure out whether the various theories or approaches that their authors call virtue ethics have something in common, something that warrants saying there is indeed something that constitutes virtue ethics.
  • 2 - What does the Aristotelian phronimos know?
    pp 38-57
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    For the Aristotelian phronimos the practically wise man has phronesis, which is a form of knowledge, and it is this that enables him (characteristically) to make correct decisions about what he should do. Phronesis, excellence in practical reasoning, moral knowledge, can be acquired only by habitually engaging in virtuous action, not, for example, just by learning a written code of conduct. There is no short cut to what the phronimos knows. Nothing but the acquisition of personal virtue will yield it. When we bring this feature of phronesis right to the surface, it clearly suppresses a significant amount of the pretensions of contemporary normative ethical theory. Aristotelian anti-generalism still carries a nasty sting, for it entails that, unless the theorists have phronesis and hence virtue themselves, their "shorter ways" may well make it harder, rather than easier, to acquire virtue.
  • 3 - Kant and agent-oriented ethics
    pp 58-91
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    This chapter looks at the ways in which Kant's theory is agent-focused, and also at why it is not more agent-focused than it is. In Kant, as in Aristotle, "virtue" (Tugend) is by far the most complex moral quality of an agent that he discusses, and any serviceable treatment of it will require some investigation of the details not only of Kant's moral psychology but also his larger empirical theory of human nature. For Kant virtues also involve the setting and pursuing of ends. Promoting an end involves desire for it, and desire is the representation of an object accompanied by a feeling of pleasure. Kant holds that we have a duty to strive to make the motive of duty a sufficient incentive in all our actions, and that only those actions done from duty have genuine or authentic moral worth.
  • 4 - The difference that ends make
    pp 92-115
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    The starting point for many discussions of Kantian ethics and virtue involves either a presumption or a challenge to the effect that an account of the virtues, or an ethics of virtue, is both essential to proper understanding of morality and alien to the Kantian enterprise. In thinking about the role of moral rules and principles, one should be careful not to conflate the forms of practical activity with whatever it is that gives them authority or justification. This chapter explores an end-anchored interpretation of Kant's ethics, and uses that interpretation to build out the ethics in terms congenial to the ambitions of virtue theory. On the Kant side of things, the theoretical foundation is necessary to the practice. Without rational nature as an end in itself, final and authoritative for us as free agents, there could be no doctrine of virtue.
  • 5 - Two pictures of practical thinking
    pp 116-146
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    On the Aristotelian view, the most ethically valuable sort of practical thinking is a continuous activity that accompanies and completes those activities it guides and that form an essential constituent of those activities. Some might recognize that dialectical activities involve a distinctive kind of practical thinking yet balk at the idea that this sort of practical thought can be better or worse in a recognizably ethical sense. Practical thinking cannot be contained within either of its supposed temporal boundaries. The Kantian conception of practical reasoning, which is often taken to be a neutral framework for ethical theorizing, hides the very possibility of the sort of practical thinking that Aristotelian ethics regards as most distinctively ethical. What is at issue in the confrontation between Kantianism and Aristotelianism is how exactly thought becomes practical, and by extension how the philosophical inquiry into excellence in practical thinking is to be framed.
  • 6 - Moving beyond Kant's account of agency in the Grounding
    pp 147-163
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    This chapter gives an overview of Immanuel Kant's account of human psychology as presented by Kant across his recorded thought and not just in the Grounding. The vague nature of the Grounding's account of agency and the minimalist nature of its mentioned duties notwithstanding, Kant believes that there is much more to living in a manner appropriately responsive to the dignity of humanity than ad hoc applications of the categorical imperative test to maxims concerning isolated, individual actions. Kant divides the faculty of cognition, as he does each of the three fundamental faculties, into higher and lower subfaculties, depending on whether these subfaculties presuppose the capacity of self-consciousness or not. When it comes to popular misconceptions about Kant's account of human agency, the influential Grounding is a big part of the problem. Kant has plenty to say outside the Grounding about the moral importance of cultivating our feelings and desires.
  • 7 - A Kantian conception of human flourishing
    pp 164-193
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    This chapter focuses on a central feature of eudaimonistic virtue ethics generally regarded as absent from Immanuel Kant's ethical theory: a conception of human flourishing. It develops this Kantian conception through a discussion of Kant's doctrine of duties, especially his system of self-regarding duties. The chapter begins the discussion of human flourishing with Aristotle's account of eudaimonia. Human flourishing involves the blossoming of an agent's characteristically human capacities, and the experience of pleasures proper to the exercise of those capacities. Kant makes clear both the interconnection of the highest good in a person and the highest good for a possible world, and the latter's status as the ultimate end. Finally, the chapter shows how the resulting conception of flourishing fares in relation to the criteria and suggests its importance for understanding Kant's ethics and appreciating Kantian ethics.
  • 8 - Kantian perfectionism
    pp 194-214
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    This chapter comments briefly on Aristotle's perfectionism before turning to the Wolffian variety. We can understand Immauel Kant's own moral philosophy as a form of perfectionism, as long as we are clear about what it is that is supposed to be perfected. Before the chapter turns to Kant's response to Christian Wolff's form of perfectionism, it illustrates the prevalence of his doctrine in Kant's philosophical environment with a reference to its occurrence in an even closer contemporary, namely Moses Mendelssohn. What Kant really rejects is not the abstract concept of perfection as the goal of morality, but the specific conception of perfection that his contemporaries like Wolff and Mendelssohn had ultimately derived from Aristotle. Kant transforms Wolff's conception of reason as a capacity for insight into connections that exist independently of us into a conception of it as a power to create order that does not otherwise exist.
  • 9 - Aristotle, the Stoics, and Kant on anger
    pp 215-240
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    This chapter considers three familiar cases of anger. The first two, of the Iranian family members and of Achilles, are cases of vengeful anger. The third case of anger is one of moral protest and outcry on behalf of others that then inspires an act of heroic courage. The chapter argues that certain forms of anger are, on a Kantian view, a morally necessary expression of our vulnerability, and takes up Aristotle, the Stoics (principally Seneca), and then Immanuel Kant. Seneca's Stoicism, as developed in On Anger, is the primary focus of the chapter. Kant takes many of his cues from the Stoics, including his famously wistful remarks about the "apathy" of the Stoic sage. The chapter sketches Kant's general view on emotions, pathological and practical, and gesture toward how we might understand the expressive function of moral anger on a Kantian view.
  • 10 - Kant's impartial virtues of love
    pp 241-259
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    This chapter argues that the proper recognition of love as a moral force in Immanuel Kant undermines virtue-theoretic criticism of Kant's ethics in a variety of ways. To regard love as having impartial, and indeed universal and unconditional aspects, which underlie the duties of beneficience and forgiveness, presents special difficulties. Although the impartiality and universality of Kant's ethics is generally associated with the moral force of respect, the moral force of love for Kant also has a fundamental impartial universal aspect which is also foundational. The combination of universality, particularity, and unconditionality has not been thought problematic for universal respect, but it has rendered the ideal of universal love suspect. The chapter also looks at the idea of adopting benevolence as a maxim, and focuses on the objection as applicable to certain themes implicit and explicit in Kant's treatment of love, namely self-love and pride, and forgiveness.
  • 11 - The problem we all have with deontology
    pp 260-270
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    This chapter deals with the problem of justifying deontology, something that Kantian ethics notably seeks to do. Kantian defense of deontology favors the deontological answer to the specific question what the surgeon should do. Moreover, many contemporary Kantians also doubt the justificatory strength of the Formula of Universal Law and find the Formula of Humanity more promising as a way of defending deontology. The Formula of Humanity doesn't tell us that we may not treat, or even use, others as means. Deontology tells us that we must restrain not only our desire for our own welfare but also our desire to help others because, so to speak, of the negative moral weight of killing, lying and stealing. So the force of deontology seems to be a force that operates against certain human feelings or sentiments.
  • 12 - Intuition, system, and the “paradox” of deontology
    pp 271-288
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    The picking and choosing among our intuitions that the author wants to criticize is found both in consequentialism and in Kantianism. The diversity of the roles of agency the consequentialist might concede is undoubtedly an intuitive phenomenon that confronts us. The clearest and most rational assessment method on the table is the one offered by consequentialism, which involves treating all agencies as if it had a productive role. This chapter deals with what Kant, the most systematic deontological theorist of all, has to say about the roles of agency. A philosophical or ethical outlook which did not insist, as Kant does, on the fundamental impregnability of causal determinism and of epistemological skepticism alike might have a number of advantages that Kant cannot duplicate. It might be less pessimistic about our prospects for doing science and causal explanation without marginalizing the possibility of agency.
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Translations of Aristotle (see Abbreviations for information on standard translations)
Aristotle, . Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Irwin, Terence. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1999.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Crisp, Roger. Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Translations of Kant (see Abbreviations for information on standard translations)
Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Smith, Norman Kemp. London: Macmillan, 1929.
Kant, ImmanuelGroundwork to the Metaphysic of Morals, trans. Paton, H.J.. In The Moral Law, 53–131. London: Hutchinson, 1948.
Kant, ImmanuelGroundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, trans. Paton, H.J.. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1956.
Kant, ImmanuelReligion within the Limits of Reason Alone, ed. Greene, Theodore and Hudson, Hoyt. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960.
Kant, Immanuel “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View.” In Beck, Louis White, ed. and trans., Kant on History. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963.
Kant, Immanuel “Conjectural Beginnings of Human History.” In Beck, Louis White, ed., and Fackenheim, Emil L., trans., Kant on History. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963.
Kant, ImmanuelThe Metaphysics of Morals: The Doctrine of Virtue, trans. Gregor, Mary J.. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964.
Kant, ImmanuelThe Metaphysical Elements of Justice, trans. Ladd, John. New York: Macmillan, 1965.
Kant, ImmanuelThe Metaphysics of Morals (selections), trans. Nisbet, H.B.. In Reiss, H., ed., Kant: Political Writings, 131–75. Cambridge University Press, 1970.
Kant, ImmanuelAnthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, trans. Gregor, Mary J.. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974.
Kant, ImmanuelLectures on Ethics, trans. Infield, Louis. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1981. First published London: Methuen, 1930.
Kant, ImmanuelThe Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Beck, Lewis White. London: Macmillan, 1993.


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