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Non-relative Virtues, An Aristotelian Approach. Martha Nussbaum. Remoteness and ethical theory. Nussbaum points out that remoteness is a feature of other major approaches to ethics: Allegiance to a broad, impartial principle of utility in the case of utilitarianism

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Remoteness and ethical theory
Remoteness and ethical theory

  • Nussbaum points out that remoteness is a feature of other major approaches to ethics:

    • Allegiance to a broad, impartial principle of utility in the case of utilitarianism

    • Dispassionate following of universal moral law in the case of a Kantian approach.

    • Virtue ethics, however characterizes itself by its connection to social life and features of human psychology.

Virtue ethics and relativism
Virtue Ethics and Relativism

  • Many writers have connected virtue ethics with relativism because it is a value pluralistic approach that at least appears to favor normative standards local in origin.

  • e.g. for Aristotle, magnanimity is being deserving of greatness and knowing it. From a later, Christian monastic perspective greatness of the soul would consist in humility and self-denial.

Aristotle and objectivity
Aristotle and Objectivity

  • It is clear, however, that Aristotle himself advocated a non-relativist approach to ethics.

    • Aristotle advocated a single view of human well-being

    • He criticized past mores for, in some cases, being “obviously stupid”

    • He criticizes other societies for having mores which ignore facts about well-being and important virtues.

Is aristotle s approach relative
Is Aristotle’s approach relative?

  • Many writers are concerned that Aritotle, rather than giving an account of the best life for a person, is instead giving an account of the best life for a 4th century BC Greek man.

  • Nussbaum thinks not. She identifies Aristotle’s method for developing a list of virtues:

Aristotle s approach
Aristotle’s Approach:

1. Find a universal sphere of human experience

2. Identify the essential features of that sphere of experience

3. Identify the adjectives that describe positive an negative attributes with respect to that sphere of experience.

4. Organize those features as describing a virtue, a vice of deficiency, or a vice of excess.

Objections to the non relativism of the aristotelian approach
Objections to the non-relativism of the Aristotelian approach

  • It may be that our tastes are conditioned by the cultures in which we live. This certainly seems the case with art, music, and even body image.

  • It may be that our virtues are artifacts of non-necessary aspects of human life. For example, generosity is only a virtue if there is a concept of private property, which may be a dysfunctional social element that we could (or should) do without.

Nussbaum s approach
Nussbaum’s approach approach

  • Nussbaum supplies a set of truly universal spheres of human experience, and suggests that Aristotle’s approach, when adapted to these spheres of experience, is an effective and non-relative approach.

The universal spheres of experience
The universal spheres of experience approach

  • Mortality

  • The Body

  • Pleasure and Pain

  • Cognitive Capability

  • Practical Reason

  • Early Infant Development

  • Affiliation

  • Humor