Monday, March 31, 2014

[PHI 2200] Is virtue ethics vicious?

In this Elucidations podcast, Julia Annas talks about virtue ethics and says that to be told to do the right thing is not helpful at all until we know what the right thing to do is. To be told to do the honest thing, however, is helpful because we know a lot about honesty (as well as other virtues) from the way we are brought up.

But how can we acquire this know-how about virtues? After all, to be an honest person is to be the kind of person who does honest things. But one supposedly becomes honest by doing honest things. So how would one know how to do honest things before one is an honest person?

In other words, if an honest person is a person who is reliably disposed to do honest things, and the know-how about honesty is acquired from upbringing, then how can one become an honest person (i.e., develop the reliable disposition to act honestly) before one knows how to act honestly (given that one is not yet an honest person)?

It does not seem helpful to say that one learns about honesty from others as one is brought up, for the same question can be raised about others. That is, for any given person, how did that person acquire the know-how to act honestly? If we say "from being brought up by others," then we seem to get into a vicious regress. How did others acquire that know-how?

If this is correct, then is it really more helpful to be told "do the honest thing" than to be told "do the right thing," as Annas claims?

1 comment:

  1. I believe that it is NOT more helpful to be told "do the honest thing" than to be told "do the right thing". this is because just like in the case of doing the right thing, you are unsure of what the real meaning of honesty really is. As mentioned above, we cannot know what honesty is until we perform honest tasks, but we CANNOT perform these tasks if we do not even know what they are, since we don't know them from the beginning. We do not know what will bring about more honesty, thats why we cannot even take part in it. In addition, as mentioned above, we cannot follow others either, because who is to say even they know what honesty is? Also, when a person does become honest. We can ask ourselves, how much "honesty" is being just the right amount of honest? How much does one person have to be on the honest scale to be honest. Therefore, I believe that being told to do the honest thing rather than to be told do the right thing is not more helpful because in both cases we do not really know what the true meanings of honesty and being right really are.


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