To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
According to Thomas Nagel, the requirements of morality “are not imposed from outside, but reflect our own disposition to view ourselves, and our need to accept ourselves, from outside. Without such acceptance we will be in a significant way alienated from our lives” (Nagel 1986: 138).
This quotation hints at a solution to what I will call “Smith's problem” after Michael Smith who has most clearly articulated it (M. Smith 1994). This problem maps onto the debate between the Kantian and the Humean traditions in ethics. Kantians argue that moral norms are grounded in reason. By exploring the very concepts of morality and freedom we discover that we cannot but give ourselves the moral law autonomously and that it would be inconsistent and self-defeating on the norms of rationality to will to perform an immoral action. In this way, reason can establish certain “moral facts” such as that giving a false promise would be wrong. But the problem here is that this discovery does not provide us with a motivation to do right and avoid evil. We may acknowledge the rationality of doing right without being motivated to do so, just as I may acknowledge the rationality of taking an umbrella on a day when rain is expected but decide, in a devil-may-care mood, not to do so. If considerations of rational prudence can be ignored, how much more could the facts of morality be ignored?
Virtue ethics has emerged as a distinct field within moral theory - whether as an alternative account of right action or as a conception of normativity which departs entirely from the obligatoriness of morality - and has proved itself invaluable to many aspects of contemporary applied ethics. Virtue ethics now flourishes in philosophy, sociology and theology and its applications extend to law, politics and bioethics. The Handbook of Virtue Ethics brings together leading international scholars to provide an overview of the field. Each chapter summarizes and assesses the most important work on a particular topic and sets this work in the context of historical developments. Taking a global approach by embracing a variety of major cultural traditions along with the Western, the Handbook maps the emergence of virtue ethics and provides a framework for future developments.
Two very significant developments have marked the field of ethics and moral theory over the last fifty years or so. First, there has been the emergence of a new area of discussion (or the revival of an old one) called “virtue ethics” as a distinct field within moral theory alongside utilitarianism, deontology and the oft-neglected natural law theory of morality. Second, there has been an increased attention on issues in applied or practical ethics with the main focus initially turned on bioethics but soon extending to ethical issues in a large range of professional fields and issues relevant to social policy and individual behaviour. As a result of the interaction between these two developments, virtue ethics has become a distinctive field with theoretical approaches and methodologies of its own along with a range of applications of unusually wide scope. It is timely, then, to collect and publish the reflections of leading contributors to debates on the most important current themes in virtue ethics. The Handbook of Virtue Ethics is devoted to collecting these reflections. It is hoped that such a publication will prove useful for specialists in the field of virtue ethics and its many sister fields in philosophy, sociology and theology, as well as for those whose concerns are more directly practical in such ields as law, politics and bioethics.
The chapters are written by those at the forefront of the field with established international track records on a variety of related topics.
From the now iconic Barack Obama 'Hope' poster of the 2008 presidential campaign to the pit-head 'Camp Hope' of the families of the trapped Chilean miners, the language of hope can be hugely powerful as it draws on resources that are uniquely human and universal. We are beings who hope. But what does that say about us? In his thought-provoking investigation, Stan van Hooft shows that hope is a fundamental structure of the way we live our lives. Whether we hope for a life after death or for good weather tomorrow whether our hopes are grand or humble hoping is part of our outlook on life. What we hope for defines who we are. Drawing on everyday examples as well as more detailed discussion of hope in the arenas of medicine, politics and religion, van Hooft shows how hopefulness is not the same as hope and offers a convincing and powerful defence of the need for realism. Stan van Hoofts book offers an accessible and insightful discussion of the topic that shows the relevance of philosophical thinking and distinctions to this important aspect of human life.
Throughout this book, I have used Aristotle's framework for understanding virtues to make two suggestions. The first was that hope represented a set of attitudes, emotions and motivations that lay in a median position between forms of excess and forms of deficiency. The extremes that virtuous hope avoids are the excesses of presumption and the deficiencies of despair and resignation, while the non-virtuous extremes of hopefulness were naivety and fantasy at the excessive end of the spectrum, and cynicism at the deficient end. People will fail to display the virtue of hope if they lack the confidence and hopefulness to embark on projects whose success cannot be guaranteed. This would be resignation and, in even more acute cases, despair. And people will fail to display the virtue of hopefulness if they lack the conviction that their projects are worth the effort and risk involved in being committed to them. The forms of excess are somewhat more various and complex. We have seen that one form of excess of hope is presumption, which involves hoping for more than is possible, expecting others to provide it, and making no commitment to the action that hope requires. Similarly, the person who is excessive in the sphere of hopefulness trusts in others and expects good things in the future to a naive degree. Such a person neither sees risks nor anticipates problems. The line between such excessive optimism and living a life of fantasy could not be easily drawn.
There is not much written about hope these days. Perhaps it is not an attitude that there is much call for in an age of constant war, global poverty and threatening environmental catastrophe. When the future seems to promise nothing but disaster it is resilience rather than hope that is the virtue most needed in our time. However, in this book I shall argue that hope is not only an essential existential attitude for all of us but also, if it is realistic, an important virtue.
To speak of virtue is to speak of character traits and dispositions that help us to live life well. The person of courage, for example, is able to face difficulties that inspire fear in her and so to succeed in her projects. The generous person is able to overcome his tendency to selfishness and so helps those in need and wins the gratitude and respect of others. In these and many other ways a virtuous person is able to succeed in life in a way that a vicious person will not. Of course, this understanding of virtue ignores the ethical or moral norms that are often associated with that concept. Most people think of being virtuous as an ethical requirement whose value resides in moral goodness as such. One should not act generously in order to win the favour of others but because being generous is a good thing in itself.
I have argued that hopefulness is a fundamental existential structure of human existence and that specific and episodic hopes are expressions of this primordial hopefulness. Perhaps the most obvious evidence for this claim is the phenomenon of religion. Statistics gathered in 2005 indicate that there are 2.1 billion Christians in the world (33 per cent of the world's population), 1.5 billion Muslims (21 per cent), 900 million Hindus (14 per cent), 394 million adherents of Chinese traditional religions (6 per cent), 376 million Buddhists (6 per cent), and many other religious adherents besides. Those who describe themselves as non-religious constitute just 16 per cent of the world population and almost half of these still describe themselves as “theistic”. I regard these statistics as evidence for our primordial hopefulness because I consider religion to be an expression of that hopefulness. In this chapter I hope to justify this conviction and spell out its implications.
Like hope in other domains, religious hope is motivated by various needs, anxieties and concerns rather than mere fantasies or desires. Our lives are fragile, vulnerable, fallible and mortal. These and many other features of the human condition generate deep anxieties and concerns at the core of our being. As I noted in Chapter 3, it is our mortality that is the most pervasive source of dread and anxiety in our lives. We shall explore presently how religion has helped us face that dread, but outside a religious context we can only think that death will bring us oblivion.