Isaiah Berlin Lecture
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Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 8 TT08

Event Name Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 8 TT08
Start Date 9th Jun 2008 4:30pm
End Date 9th Jun 2008 6:30pm
Duration 2 hours
Description

Frans Svensson (Arizona): ‘Virtue, Advice, and Approval’ to be held in the Lecture Room, 10 Merton Street, Oxford - Seminars in Moral Philosophy webpage

Abstract

Many contemporary defenders of a virtue-based approach to ethics have tried to shrug off the objection that while such an approach may be relevant for the question of how we should be, it is lacking the resources to say much of anything about what we are to do, by subscribing to some version of the following claim: (VR) An action A is right for S in circumstances C if and only if a fully virtuous agent would characteristically A in C. There are, however, several counter-examples to (VR). In light of these counter-examples it is clear that (VR) needs to be revised and the main question in this paper is how. The paper proceeds as follows. In section 1 I provide some background to the debate. I then move on in section 2 to present what I consider to be the most important counter-examples to (VR). Section 3 contains a critical discussion of Valerie Tiberius’ recent attempt to revise (VR). On Tiberius’ account, which I will call (VRT), “[a]n action A is right for S in circumstances C iff it is the action in accordance with the reasons that would guide the action of a completely virtuous person acting in C” (Tiberius 2006, p. 248; emphasis added). I argue that (VRT) should be rejected. Unless we accept an implausible assumption about what fully virtuous agents must be committed to, it turns out that most of the counter-examples that plague (VR) are applicable to (VRT) as well. In sections 4 and 5 I turn instead to developing and defending what appears to be a more promising revision of (VR). On this account, which I will call (VRA), it is the case that an action A is right for S in circumstances C if and only if a fully virtuous agent would characteristically advise S to A in C. I show that (VRA) avoids the sorts of counter-examples that are problematic for (VR) and (VRT), and also that (VRA) does not fall prey to various other objections that critics have levelled against it. In section 6, however, two more serious difficulties for (VRA) are encountered. In response to these difficulties I suggest that, rather than abandoning the project of trying to formulate a distinctive account of right action altogether, virtue ethics should adopt the following account of rightness: (VRAP) An action A is right for S in circumstances C if and only if a fully virtuous agent would characteristically approve of S’s doing A in C.

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