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Lecture 2: Virtue Ethics & Introduction to Natural Law Theory

Lecture 2: Virtue Ethics & Introduction to Natural Law Theory

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Lecture 2: Virtue Ethics & Introduction to Natural Law Theory

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  1. Lecture 2: Virtue Ethics & Introduction to Natural Law Theory

  2. 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. 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.

  3. Overview of Ethical Systems: Virtue Ethics: 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. Plato (c.427-347c): 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).

  4. Overview of Ethical Systems: Plato (427-347 B.C.) 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).

  5. Main Points to Know: • Plato writes dialogues rather than philosophical treatises. Hence, most of his philosophical positions are voiced through the character of Socrates. Even though Socrates was Plato's actual teacher, the positions and doctrines traditionally attributed to Socrates are actually Plato's account of his teacher. Socrates never wrote anything. • Plato advances a teleological conception of morality, "we live the good life insofar as we perform our distinctively human function well."

  6. Main Points to Know: • The soul is divided into three parts: appetitive, spirit, and reason. Each part helps us to fulfill critical needs, but in Plato's view, only the rational part of the soul is fit to rule. • In order to live a virtuous life, it is necessary for the individual to cultivate balance in his/her soul. Thus, persons ruled by appetite or spirit (emotion) are "out of balance" and their actions are apt to provoke personal or social disharmony.

  7. Main Points to Know: • Appetite: In cases where appetite rules (oligarchic and tyrannical characters fit here) individuals are at the mercy of the their biological or material whims. Alcohol addiction fits this profile. Individuals who are addicted to self-destructive patterns of behavior are apt to feed their appetites at the expense of other life pursuits. People can also be ruled by material greed in much the same way. The key here is that desire is determinative; these are cravings of the highest degree.

  8. Main Points to Know: • Spirit: The emotional, passionate side of our character is centered on the idea of status on a social level. Ambition, desire for honor and glory, moral indignation, and cravings for admiration, all fit under the umbrella of spirit. Love relationships fit into this category as well. Our interactions with others provide core experiences that influence our emotional development.

  9. Main Points to Know: • Reason: The intellectual, thinking part of the soul that must weigh options, decide between alternatives, and "suppress dangerous urges.“ Plato clearly puts reason in control of the soul because it acts as good counsel seeking understanding and insight before acting. Rational individuals possess a strong contemplative faculty. They think before they act and are unlikely to take rash action in any given situation.

  10. Know Thyself: • Plato contends that each one of us performs/does one thing best. We each have one best skill and it is the development of this skill that is of paramount importance in creating a harmonious existence. If we do not have insight into what we do best, the chances of achieving a balanced soul are likely reduced. Hence the Socratic imperative, "know thyself." • Just Society: First ask yourself: is it possible to have a just society? What would it look like? How would we direct education, the economy, leisure, and social resources? What is fair? • Plato wrestles with the idea of justice in his most famous work entitled, The Republic.

  11. 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: SOUL SOCIETY Reason Philosopher-King Spirit Auxiliaries/Guardians Appetite Craftsmen/Artisans/Traders

  12. Overview of Ethical Systems: Aristotle (384-322 B.C.): 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.

  13. What is Virtue Ethics? 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.

  14. What is Virtue Ethics? “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

  15. Virtue = excellence: • Intellectual virtue can be taught. • A good person succeeds at rational activity. • Moral virtue is acquired through excellent habits. • We become good by doing good things. • We become virtuous by practicing virtuous acts.

  16. 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.

  17. Virtue Ethics: What kind of person should I be? 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.

  18. Closer Look at Virtue: • “A virtue such as honesty or generosity is not just a tendency to do what is honest or generous, nor is it to be helpfully specified as a "desirable" or "morally valuable" character trait. It is, indeed a character trait — that is, a disposition which is well entrenched in its possessor, something that, as we say "goes all the way down", unlike a habit such as being a tea-drinker — but the disposition in question, far from being a single track disposition to do honest actions, or even honest actions for certain reasons, is multi-track. It is concerned with many other actions as well, with emotions and emotional reactions, choices, values, desires, perceptions, attitudes, interests, expectations and sensibilities. To possess a virtue is to be a certain sort of person with a certain complex mindset. (Hence the extreme recklessness of attributing a virtue on the basis of a single action)” ~ Stanford Encyclopedia

  19. Three Central Themes: • Three Central Themes: 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. • A habit is a disposition to think, feel, desire, and act in a certain way without having a tendency to will consciously to do so. • “Character” may be defined as the sum-total of one’s habits. C. Eudaimonia (Human Flourishing; Successful Living): C. Phronesis (practical wisdom): How? • Practice The Golden Mean: Be moderate in all things to an appropriate degree; avoid both deficiency and excessiveness; cultivate proper virtues that are deemed most worthy by your community; • Mimic, follow the virtuous person.

  20. Practical Wisdom (Phronesis): • A good person consistently does the right thing at the right time, in the right way, and for the right reason. • There is no rule for becoming good, or for distinguishing good from bad, right from wrong. • Practical wisdom: ability to draw the right distinctions and tell right from wrong.

  21. A Character Trait is a Virtue IFF it is conducive to eudaimonia: The Golden Mean: Virtue Excess Deficiency Sphere Courage Rashness Cowardice Danger Temperance Self-indulgence Insensibility Sensual pleasure Liberality Wasteful Stinginess Money Magnificence Vulgarity Penny pinching Great wealth Pride Vanity Humility Honor & self-respect Right Ambition Overly ambitious Lack of ambition Honor Good temper No emotion Quick-temper Insult Ready wit Buffoonishness Boorishness Humor Truthfulness Boastfulness Modesty Self-description Friendliness Flattery Quarrelsome Social association Shame Bashfulness Pretense Wrongdoing Righteous Spite Envy Fortune of others Justice Greed ? Scarce goods

  22. Virtue (courage) People Degree Vice (cowardice) Duration Vice (Rashness) Objects Occasions Brutish

  23. Virtue as a Mean: • We must give in to desire in the right circumstances, in the right way, for the right reason, etc. • Practical wisdom allows us to find the mean. • There’s no rule for doing this. • You must learn to see what is right

  24. Virtue as a Mean • Virtues are means between extremes • Virtues constrain desires • But we may constrain too little or too much MODERATION IN ALL THINGS IS PARAMOUNT!

  25. 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: 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: 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.

  26. Why does desire and judgment agree for the virtuous? • The reason why the choices and actions will be free of the conflict and pain that inevitably accompanies those of the akratic and enkratic agent is because the part of their soul that governs choice and action is so disposed that desire and judgment coincide. The disposition is concerned with choices as would be determined by the person of practical wisdom (phronesis); these will be actions lying between extreme alternatives. They will lie in a man-popularly called the “golden mean”-relative to the talents and stores of the agent.

  27. Why does desire and judgment agree for the virtuous? • Choosing in this way is not easily done. It involves, for instance, feeling anger or extending generosity at the right time, toward the right people, in the right way, and for the right reasons. Intellectual virtues, such as excellence at mathematics, can be acquired by teaching, but moral virtues cannot. I may know what ought to be done and even perform virtuous act without being able to act virtuously. Nonetheless, because moral virtue is a disposition concerning choice, deliberate performance of virtuous acts can, ultimately, instill a disposition to choose them in harmony and with pleasure, and hence, to act virtuously.

  28. What does it take to be fully virtuous? 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).

  29. 3 Commonly Ascribed “Advantages” of Virtue Ethics: • Focuses on the development of habits that promote human excellence. • Focuses on an account in which being virtuous means recognizing how rational behavior requires being sensitive to the social and personal dimensions of life. • Focuses on how “rational” actions are not based on abstract principles but on moderation.

  30. Common Criticisms of Virtue Ethics (VE): • Vast differences on what constitutes a virtue (e.g., different people, societies, opinions, etc). • VE lacks clarity in resolving moral conflicts. • VE is self-centered because its primary concern is the agent’s own character. • “Well-being” is a master value & all other things are valuable only to the extent that they can contribute to it. • VE is imprecise: It fails to give us any help with the practicalities of how we should behave. • VE leaves us “hostage to luck” for only some will attain moral maturity; others will not. Moreover, life is very fragile. One small misstep and it will cost you everything; it will forever be beyond your reach.

  31. New Material: • We will now turn to examine Theistic Deontological Ethics with Natural Law Theory: • Next Time we will explore Thomas Aquinas’ “four cardinal virtues” and Introduce Kant’s deontological model as a model that became secular.

  32. Deontological Framework: • An action is right if and only if (iff) it is in accordance with a moral rule or principle. • This is a purely formal specification, forging a link between the concepts of right and action and moral rule, and gives one no guidance until one knows what a moral rule is.

  33. Deontological Framework: • So, the next thing the theory needs is a premise about that: A moral rule is one that would have been historically: A. Theistic: 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.

  34. Deontological Ethics: 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.

  35. Deontological Ethics 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.

  36. Deontological Ethics 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.

  37. Deontological Ethics For example: 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.

  38. Natural Law Theory: “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.

  39. Natural Law Theory: 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.

  40. What is Natural Law? “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

  41. What is Natural Law? “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.”

  42. What is Natural Law? 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.”

  43. Natural Law Theory: 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.

  44. Consider: • Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) states, “one part of what is politically just is natural, and the other part legal. What is natural has the same validity everywhere alike, independent of its seeming so or not. What is legal is what originally makes no difference [whether it is done] one way or another, but makes a difference whenever people have laid down the rule, e.g., … that a goat rather than two sheep should be sacrificed.” ~ Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book V, 133.

  45. Consider: • Aristotle also states in On Rhetoric, book 1, chap. 13: “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.”

  46. Consider: 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].

  47. Cicero goes on to say: “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).

  48. In his article, “Natural Law in the Teachings of the Reformers”, Journal of Religion 168 (1946), 26, John T. McNeill writes: “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.

  49. English judge Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) writes: “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.