Lecture 2: Virtue Ethics & Introduction to Natural Law Theory. Basic Framework of Virtue Ethics: What type of a person should you be?. Premise 1: An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent would do in similar circumstances.
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Premise 1: An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent would do in similar circumstances.
Premise 1a: A virtuous agent is one who acts virtuously, i.e., one who has and exercises the virtues.
Premise 2: A virtue is a character trait a human being needs to flourish or live well.
Rather than focusing on what we ought to do, Virtue ethics offers a distinctive approach whereby we focus on human character asking the question, “What should I be?” Thus, ethical life involves envisioning ideals for human life and embodying those ideals in one’s life. Virtues are ways in which we embody those ideals.
Virtue is an excellence of some sort. Originally the word meant “strength” and referred to as “manliness.” In Aristotle’s ethics (arete) is used which is trans. as “excellences of various types.”
Aristotle says there are 2 types of virtue: intellectual virtues:
excellences of the mind (e.g., ability to understand, reason, & judge well);
moral virtues: learned by repetition (e.g., practicing honesty we become honest. To be virtuous requires knowledge, practice, & consistent effort at character building.
To be virtuous we must understand what contributes to our overall good & have our desire (appetitive; workers), spirit (warriors), & reason (ruler-guardians) educated properly so they will aggregate with the guidance provided by the rational part of the soul (Books 2 & 3 of Republic). When these 3 parts of the soul conflict with each other, it might move us to act in ways that go against the greater good (become incontinent).
Socrates: Virtue is Knowledge. No one intentionally pursues what is wrong;. Ignorance and forgetfulness are at fault when one does something wrong.
Plato (c. 427-347) is concerned with the quality of a person’s inner state & he prized beauty, health, harmony, & strength of a soul as the virtues we should emulate. We must have a well-ordered soul whereby our appetites (temperance), emotions (courage), and reason (wisdom) operate in their respective roles. When reason governs, justice manifests itself from out of the well-ordered person.
Aristotle (384-322): The function of man is reason (the good of the thing is when it performs its function well) which is peculiar to him. Thus, the function of man is reason and the life that is distinctive of humans is the life in accordance with reason. If the function of man is reason, then the good man is the man who reasons well This is the life of excellence (eudaimonia; human flourishing & well-being).
Aristotle: “Must have knowledge, second he must choose the acts and choose them for their own sakes, & finally his actions must proceed from a firm character” (1105a).
Plato believed our natural desires are greedy and depraved. Thus, they must
be held in tight check by the powers of reason. He compared the human soul to
a city-state made up of ruler-guardians, guardians, and the peasants/artisans.
Every reality is an archetype of a corresponding eternal form. The goal of life is to
actualize one’s true nature together with one’s many innate potentialities.
So long as the individual is governed by the power of reason, and reason is assisted by courage and will power (guardians), the unruly desires can be suppressed.
4 primary integrated virtues: Wisdom: corresponds to reason; courage: corresponds to the will: temperance, corresponds to desire: justice: links individual to society.
If reason for a moment lets down its guard, then the desires will exert their power, seize control, and lead the person to corruption and immorality.
The highest good is the well-ordered whole to which each part contributes according to its own capacity. A thing in reality is good insofar as it participates in & corresponds to the form of the good (which is the high point of the forms).
Plato views social justice exactly parallels his notion of individual justice. There are three parts of the soul and three corresponding divisions in the social order. The social order is constructed as follows:
Though we are naturally suited to moral goodness, we don’t automatically develop such inclinations
Your habits & inclinations develop with practice; what you sow is what you reap.
Carefully cultivate moral goodness by rigorous practice.
Ideal of virtue is doing the right thing because you want to do the right thing: you desire to act virtuously.
In order to desire to act virtuously you must carefully and consistently practice doing right until it becomes habitual & natural.
If you act selfishly then you will become a selfish person. Eventually what feels right to you may be very wrong.
With practice & diligence you can develop the habits & inclinations of a virtuous person.
Thus, choose to be virtuous. Desire + judgment must agree.
Virtue Ethics emphasizes the development of character as its central theme rather than trying to define 'goodness' or 'rightness'. It is a eudaimonistic theory as it holds 'happiness' to be our highest goal. According to Aristotle, we attain happiness by cultivating both intellectual and moral virtue. We become virtuous by habit: we deliberately and consistently choose the mean between excess and deficiency until it becomes second-nature.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
~ Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
On Becoming Agathos & EudaimonFrom Aristotle’s Point of View:Cited from Michael Boylan, Basic Ethics (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2000), 52.
Step 1:Master the functional requirements within a given type of task or behavior. Master a good habit.
Step 2:Possess the habitual mastery of the functional requirements to an appropriate degree. Possess habitual mastery of that habit.`
Step 3:Steps 1 & 2: excellence in that task or behavior. Achieve excellence in the habit.
Step 4:Possess habitual excellence in a number of key tasks or behavior.
Step 5:Possess habitual excellence in those tasks or behavior that the common opinion judges to be the most worthy.
Step 6:Steps 4 & 5 leads to agathos.
Step 7:Possessing Agathos leads to eudaimon.
Thus, on balance, excellent traits in human character generally produce excellent actions.
What is a virtue?
A virtue is a habit of excellence, a beneficial tendency, a skilled disposition that enables a person to realize the crucial potentialities that constitute proper human flourishing (eudaimonia).
What is a habit? A disposition to think, feel, desire, and act in a certain way without having a tendency to consciously will to do so.
What is a character: The sum-total of one’s habits, tendencies, and well-being.
Four cardinal virtues: temperance, courage, prudence, and justice. Piety (reverence to the gods) is sometimes considered a fifth virtue.
A.Virtue (arete): A habit of excellence, a beneficial tendency, a skilled disposition that enables a person to realize the crucial potentialities that constitute proper human flourishing.
C. Eudaimonia (Human Flourishing; Successful Living):
C.Phronesis (practical wisdom): How?
A Character Trait is a Virtue IFF it is conducive to eudaimonia: The Golden Mean:
Virtue Excess Deficiency Sphere
MagnificenceVulgarityPenny pinchingGreat wealth
PrideVanityHumilityHonor & self-respect
Right AmbitionOverly ambitiousLack of ambitionHonor
Good temperNo emotionQuick-temperInsult
Righteous SpiteEnvyFortune of others
MODERATION IN ALL THINGS IS PARAMOUNT!
In the virtuous person, desire and judgment agree whereby the choices and actions will be free of the conflict and pain that inevitably accompany those who are akratic and/or enkratic:
The enkratic is the morally strong person who shares the akratic agent’s desire to do other than what he knows ought to be done, but acts in accordance with his better judgment.
The akratic is the morally weak person who desires to do other than what he knows ought to be done and acts on this desire against his better judgment.
In neither kind of choice are desire and judgment in harmony. In the virtuous desire and judgment agree.
The fully virtuous do what they should without a struggle against contrary desire; possess practical wisdom (phronesis) which is the knowledge or understanding that enables its possessor to do just that in any given situation. Most contend that phronesis comes out of at least three sources:
1.Comes only with the experience of life. The virtuous are mindful of the consequences of possible actions. How could they fail to be reckless, thoughtless and short-sighted if they were not? Moreover, they have developed the capacity to recognize some features of a situation as more important than others, or indeed, in that situation, as the only relevant ones. The wise do not see things in the same way as the nice adolescents who, with their imperfect virtues, still tend to see the personally disadvantageous nature of a certain action as competing in importance with its honesty or benevolence or justice.
2.They mimic, follow the virtuous person.
* We might add that it also takes a certain set of external goods (e.g., right background, right education, right financial resources, right community, etc).
1.Given to us by God;
2.Is required by Natural Law (theistic connection);
B.Secular (though can still be connected to God):
1.Is laid on us by reason.
2.Is required by rationality;
3.Would command universal acceptance;
4.Would be the object of choice of all rational beings.
In sum, we should choose actions based on their inherent, intrinsic worth; evangelical approaches to ethics are deontological because it presupposes Scripture as revelation.
“Deontological” comes from the Greek word “deon”, meaning that which is binding, in particular a binding duty. So, you are bound to your duty.
For example, a deontologist might argue that a promise ought to be kept simply because it is right to keep a promise, regardless whether the doing so will have good or bad consequences.
In contrast, a utilitarian will argue that we should keep our promises only when keeping them results in better consequences than the alternatives.
It holds that acts are right or wrong in and of themselves because of the kinds of acts they are and not simply because of their ends or consequences.
- The ends do not justify the means.
- A good end or purpose does not justify a bad actions.
- You are duty-bound; binding is not dependent on consequences, no matter if it is painful or pleasurable.
1.You are duty-bound to keep your promise to be faithful to your spouse, even if a more attractive person comes along.
2.You are duty-bound to always telling the truth, even if it cost you a job.
Duty is not based on what is pleasant or beneficial, but rather upon the obligation itself.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”
~ Galileo Galilei.
1.It is moral law presumed to be grounded in nature itself. A natural law is a norm for ethical behavior that is deemed binding on all humans because it coheres with the human essence or with the structure of the universe (grounded in nature itself), perhaps because it was legislated by God.
2.Insofar as natural law can be known by reason alone, without special revelation, they provide guidance for all humans, and when followed they enhance the common good, but also render each person morally responsible to a divine judge.
“What do we mean by natural law? In its simplest definition, natural law is that ‘unwritten law’ that is more or less the same for everyone everywhere. To be more exact, natural law is the concept of a body of moral principles that is common to all humankind and, as generally posited, is recognizable by human reason alone. Natural law is therefore distinguished from -- and provides a standard for -- positive law, the formal legal enactments of a particular society.” ~ Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty
“Since law must always be some dictate of reason, natural law also will be some dictate of reason. In fact, it is law discovered by human reason. Our normal and natural grasp of the natural law is effected by reason, that is, by the thinking mind, and in this service reason is sometimes called ‘conscience.’” ~ Jonathan Dolhenty, “An Overview of Natural Law Theory.”
Dr. Dolhenty goes on to say:
“We, in all our human acts, inevitably see them in their relation to the natural law, and we mentally pronounce upon their agreement or disagreement with the natural law. Such a pronouncement may be called a ‘judgment of conscience.’ The ‘norm’ of morality is the natural law as applied by conscience. Lastly, we can say that the natural law is the disposition of things as known by our human reason and to which we must conform ourselves if we are to realize our proper end or ‘good’ as human beings.”
3. The idea initially arose among the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, esp. promoted by Judaism and Stoics. But it came to the foreground in the Christian tradition as thinkers drew from both philosophy and the Bible to devise a theory of morality and politics that could be understood to be universally applicable.
Natural Rights: Entitlements with which humans are endowed by nature or by virtue of their status as being human.
“there is in nature a common principle of the just and unjust that all people in some way divine [discern], even if they have no association or commerce with each other.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.):
He described “Law” as “the reason highest, implanted in Nature, which commands what ought to be done and forbids the opposite” [Laws, in Great Legal Philosophers, 44].
He said that “right is based, not upon men’s opinions, but upon Nature” [Ibid., 45].
“What is right and true is also eternal, and does not begin or end with written statutes…. From this point of view it can readily understood by that those who formulated wicked and unjust statutes for nations, thereby breaking their promises and agreements, put into effect anything but ‘laws.’ It may thus be clear that in the very definition of the term ‘law’ there inheres the idea and principle of choosing what is just and true…. Therefore Law is the distinction between things just and unjust, made in agreement with that primal and most ancient of all things, Nature; and in conformity to nature’s standard are framed those human laws which inflict punishment upon the wicked but defend and protect the good” (Ibid., 51).
“There is no real discontinuity between the teaching of the Reformers and that of their predecessors with respect to natural law. Not one of the leaders of the Reformation assails the principle. Instead, with the possible exception of Zwingli, they all are on occasion express a quite ungrudging respect for the moral law naturally implanted in the human heart and seek to inculcate this attitude in their readers. Natural law is not one of the issues on which they bring the Scholastics under criticism. With safeguards of their primary doctrines but without conscious resistance on their part, natural law enters into the framework of their thought and is an assumption of their political and social teaching…. For the Reformers, as for the Fathers, canonists, and the Scholastics, natural law stood affirmed on the pages of Scripture.
“As man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything, it is necessary that he should, in all points conform to his Maker’s will. This will of his Maker is called the law of nature…. This law of nature being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all of their force and all of their authority mediately or immediately from this original.” ~ William Blackstone, “Introduction”, Commentaries on the Laws of England, sec. 2, 1:29-31.
“At its most basic, natural law theory tells us that actions are right just because they are natural, and wrong just because they are unnatural. And people are good to the extent that they fulfill their true nature, bad insofar as thy flout it.” ~ Russ Shafer Landau, The Fundamentals of Ethics, 72.
1.Is not made by human beings;
2.Is based on the structure of reality;
3.Is the same for all human beings and at all times;
4.It is an unchanging rule or pattern which is there for human beings to discover;
5.It is the naturally knowable moral law;
6.It is a means by which people everywhere (individuals and as communities) can be enriched and rewarded.
~Adapted from John Dolhenty’s article, “An Overview of Natural Law Theory.”
“ We are designed to be moral.”
~ Paul R. Shockley
“We are definitely at our most peaceful state when we adhere to natural law.”
~ Jeremy R. Poland.
Consider this statement from John Dolhenty:
“It is interesting to note that virtually everyone seems to have some knowledge of natural law even before such knowledge is codified and formalized. Even young children make an appeal to "fair play," demand that things be "fair and square," and older children and adults often apply the "golden rule." When doing so, they are spontaneously invoking the natural law. This is why many proponents of the natural law theory say it is the law which is "written upon the hearts of men."
Consider this statement from John Dolhenty:
These are examples of what is called "connatural knowledge," that is, a knowledge which:
follows on the "lived experience" of the truth;
is the living contact of the intellect with reality itself;
is not always given expression in concepts;
may be obscure to the knower;
is overlaid with elements from the affective or feeling side of man's nature.
John Dolhenty goes on to say:
Now, our reflection on our own conduct gives rise to the explicit formulation of the precepts of the natural law. We as human beings put our "commonsense" notions of natural law under "critical examination." In other words, our natural impulses toward "fair play," justice, and so on are subject to a rigorous investigation and rationalization. And our understanding of natural law becomes more precise as we consider and codify the principles or precepts of natural law. The primary precept of natural law will be the most basic principle about human action that can be formulated.
“The essential nature of man is unalterable because it is a reflection of the unchanging divine essence.” Rice, 52.
“all those things to which man has a natural inclination are naturally apprehended by reason as being good, and consequently as objects of pursuit, and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance” [S.T., I, II, Q. 94, art. 2] The basic inclinations of man are five:
1.To seek the good, including his highest good, which is eternal happiness with God.
2.To preserve himself in existence.
3.To preserve the species-that is, to unite sexually.
4.To live in community with other men.
5.To use his intellect and will-that is, to know the truth and to make his own decisions.
These inclinations are put into human nature by God to help man achieve his final end of eternal happiness. From these inclinations we apply the natural law by deduction: Good should be done; this actions is good; this actions therefore should be done.
“Natural law will seem mysterious if we forget that everything has a law built into its nature. The nature of a rock is such that it will sink if you throw it into a pond. An automobile will function if you feed it gasoline. If you put sand in the tank instead, you may be sincere in your belief that the car will run, but you will end up a pedestrian. The natural law is the story of how things work. If you want your body to function well, you ought not to treat it as if it were a trash compactor. Natural law is easy to understand when we are talking about the physical nature. But it applies as well to the moral sphere.”
“Morality is governed by a law built into the nature of man and knowable by reason. Man can know, through the use of his reason, what is in accord with his nature and therefore good. Every law, however, has to have a lawgiver. Let us say up front that the natural law makes no ultimate sense without God as its author…The natural law is a set of manufacturer’s directions written into our nature so that we can discover through reason how we ought to act. It ‘is nothing other can than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided’ [citation from Aquinas]. The Ten Commandments, and other prescriptions of the divine law, specify some applications of that natural law.”
~ Charles Rice, 50 Questions on the Natural Law, rev. ed., 30-31.
“Morality is governed by a law built into the nature of man and knowable by reason. Man can know, through the use of his reason, what is in accord with his nature and therefore good. Every law, however, has to have a lawgiver. Let us say up front that the natural law makes no ultimate sense without God as its author…The natural law is a set of manufacturer’s directions written into our nature so that we can discover through reason how we ought to act. It ‘is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided’ [citation from Aquinas]. The Ten Commandments, and other prescriptions of the divine law, specify some applications of that natural law.”
~ Charles Rice, 50 Questions on the Natural Law, rev. ed., 30-31.
“The natural law provides a guide through which we can safely and rightly choose to love by God by acting in accord with our nature and by helping others to do the same. We can know the requirements of the natural law through reason unaided by explicit revelation. But, because of the weakness and disorder caused in our nature by original sin, we are likely to make mistakes; So God has provided revelation to enable to us know with certainty how we ought to act….the natural law and revelation compliment each other” (Ibid., 32).
“There is not a natural morality and a supernatural morality but only one salvific morality…of which natural law morally is existentially a part….” ~ Joseph F. Costanzo, S.J., The Historical Credibility of Hans Kung, 359.
Consider this quote by Pascal…
“The immortality of the soul is something of such vital importance to us, affecting us so deeply, that one must have lost all feeling not to care about knowing the facts of the matter. All our actions and thoughts must follow such different paths, according to whether there is hope of eternal blessing or not, that the only possible way of acting with sense and judgment is to decide our course in the light of this point, which ought to be our ultimate objective.” Pascal’s Pensees, 427/194.
“The natural law provides an objective standard of right and wrong. But it is essential to distinguish the objective wrongness of an act from the subjective culpability, if any, of the person who does it. Jeffrey Dahmer committed objective wrong acts when he lured fifteen men to his Milwaukee apartment and murdered them. The sole question in is trial, however, was whether he was sane and therefore culpable. The jury decided that he was sane. John Hinkley, however, shot President Ronald Reagan, and three others on March 30, 1981, and was found not guilty by reason of insanity; he was committed to a mental hospital” (Rice, 32).
“To be morally culpable for committing a wrong, one must know it is wrong and yet choose to do it. The abortionist, for example, performs actions that objectively violate the natural law and the divine law. But his subjective culpability may be diminished or perhaps even eliminated (or increased) by circumstances. In general, the culpability is not ours to judge. The presence of absence of subjective culpability, however, cannot change the objective rightness or wrongness of the act: the act either is or not in keeping with the Manufacturer’s directions written in our nature” (Ibid., 33).
“The distinction between yes and no, true and false, good and evil, cannot be given up unless men want to give up being human.”
~ Walter Kasper, Transcending All Understanding: The Meaning of Christian Faith Today, 41.
The Scriptures. Besides the natural and human it was necessary for the directing of human conduct to have Divine Law: The Old and New Testament.
Thus, the divine law compliments the natural law.
“It is necessary for man to accept by faith not only things which are above reason, but also those which can be known by reason: and this for three motives. First, in order that man may arrive more quickly at the knowledge of Divine truth…. Second,... In order that the knowledge of God may be more general. For many are unable to make progress in the study of science, either through dullness of mind, or through having a number of occupations and temporal needs, or even through laziness in learning, all of whom would be altogether deprived of the knowledge of God, unless Divine things were brought to their knowledge under the guise of faith.”
He goes on to say…
“The third reason is for the sake of certitude. For human reason is very deficient in things concerning God. A sign of this is that philosophers in their researches, by natural investigation, into human affairs, have fallen into many errors, and have disagreed among themselves. And consequently, in order that mean might have knowledge of God, free of doubt and uncertainty, it was necessary for divine matters to be delivered to them by way of faith, being told to them, as it is were, by God Himself Who cannot lie” [S.T., II, II, Q. 1, art. 4].
“[As to] certain most general precepts that are known to all,… the natural law, in the abstract, can nowise be blotted out from men’s hearts. [However, the natural law] is blotted out in the case of a particular action, in so far as reason is hindered from applying the general principle to a particular point of practice, on account of concupiscence or some other passion…. But as to the other, i.e., the secondary precepts, the natural law can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions, just as in speculative matters errors occur in respect of necessary conclusions; or by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among some men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states (Rom. i), were not esteemed sinful.” ~ S.T., I, II, Q. 94, art. 6.
“ A person can so dull his conscience with repeated sin that he will no longer acknowledge that what he is doing is wrong. As Saint Thomas said, “Through sin, the reason is obscured, especially in practical matters, the will hardened to evil, good actions become more difficult, and concupiscence [yearning of the soul for the good] more impetuous.”
Aquinas’ System of Laws:
The integration of natural and human laws with the eternal and divine laws.
Operates entirely on the basis of human law-even if the affirm natural law.
Secular and humanistic, without reliance on God and His revelation, divorcing man from God’s precepts, leaves man entirely on his own.
Yet, there is angst, because no man can actually free himself from God and from himself as He is designed by God. Can Man Really Live Apart from God?