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Varieties of Virtue Ethics

Varieties of Virtue Ethics in Philosophy, Social Science and Theology, Oriel College, Oxford, January 8–10, 2015

The third annual conference of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham.

Varieties of Virtue Ethics in Philosophy, Social Science and Theology Virtue ethics has been undergoing a revival in moral philosophy during the last half a century.  The aim of this conference was to bring together experts from a range of disciplines to explore the varieties of virtue ethics, both within and across disciplinary boundaries. To what extent are the varieties of virtue ethics rooted in different conceptions of a single underlying concept, and to what extent have they taken on lives of their own? What, if any, is the underlying common core that legitimises calling an approach a ‘variety of virtue ethics’? Most importantly, what can theorists from philosophy, social science and theology learn from each other’s work? 

The programme is available to view here.

Abstracts and papers presented at the conference can be found below:

Julia Annas - Which Variety of Virtue Ethics? - Keynote Speaker

Which Variety of Virtue Ethics?

Aristotelian virtue ethics is the variety most studied in today’s resurgence of interest in virtue ethics, but there are rivals. How might we reasonably prefer one variety of virtue ethics to another? I examine Nietzsche’s conception of virtue, one very different from Aristotle’s, in order to explore the issue of the grounds we need for making one conception of virtue, rather than another, central to our ethical theory.

Blaine Fowers - The Deep Psychology of Eudaimonia and Virtue: Belonging, Loyalty, and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex - Keynote Speaker

The Deep Psychology of Eudaimonia and Virtue:Belonging, Loyalty, and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex

Aristotle’s function argument suggests that the human good is found in the excellent expression of natural human functions and that virtues are the character strengths that make it possible to fulfill those functions. An evolutionary understanding of human nature recognizes humans as an ultrasocial species that features group living, cooperation, and profound interdependence. Group inclusion was essential to survival and reproduction during human evolution. Therefore, a social exclusion detector is an extremely important adaptation that enables the individual to monitor the threat of ostracism. Social exclusion activates a key part of the neural network that registers physical pain, the anterior cingulate cortex, making social exclusion literally painful. The human function of group living is fulfilled by activities that promote belonging, a central human good. Extensive research documents the essential role of belonging in human flourishing. The primary virtue associated with belonging is loyalty, which is the direct, everyday expression of group membership.

Robert C. Roberts - Virtues and Belief in God - Keynote Speaker

Virtues and Belief in God

This paper describes a basic psychological mechanism by which beliefs about God affect the structure of virtues in human beings. Iris Murdoch calls it “the siege of the individual by concepts.” A premise is that appetites, desires, emotions, pleasures and pains have a conceptual dimension that can be trained by regular exposure to relevant concepts. Theological concepts are among the relevant ones. Another premise is that our virtues and vices are largley dispositions to appetites, desires, emotions, pleasures and pains. The argument is made by way of a discussion of two virtues, temperance and compassion.

Andrew Sayer - Virtue ethics and social science: a postdisciplinary perspective - Keynote Speaker

Virtue ethics and social science: a postdisciplinary perspective

As a social scientist who regards disciplines, at least in the social/human sciences, as a failed experiment in the organisation of learning, I shall argue for a post-disciplinary approach to understanding ethics in everyday life, one that in many ways resembles the pre-disciplinary social science of the 18th and early 19th centuries. I shall show some of the ways in which the imperialist yet parochial character of modern disciplines has obstructed understanding of ethics. This includes the damage done by the divorce of normative philosophy and substantive social science. Themes will include the influence of environment, experience and upbringing on character and their relationship to individual responsibility; experience and practical reason; the intelligence of dispositions and emotions; and how these involve mind-body interactions; and what a focus on virtue and character misses in understanding ethics in practice.


Konrad Banicki - Iris Murdoch and the Varieties of Virtue Ethics

Iris Murdoch and the Varieties of Virtue Ethics

Despite works which resemble that of popular virtue philosophers, Iris Murdoch is rarely mentioned.
Murdoch’s works are similar in terms of both the criticism of the “modern moral philosophy” (Anscombe, 1958) and the virtue ethical alternative offered. (1) She harshly criticises deontological and consequentialist theories, considering them to be more similar to each other than other theorists claimed.
(2) Her affinity with contemporary virtue ethics turns out to be considerably more complex, when her positive alternative to “modern moral philosophy” is considered. The general features of which include an attempt to build ethics on the basis of virtuous character and reliable moral psychology. Some particularities of her perspective, however, are either absent from typical contemporary virtue ethical approaches or different from the 'default' neo-Aristotelian stance. Her approach is clearly Platonic, based on the non-natural notion of the Good (rather than naturalistic one of eudaimonia), and ultimately directed at a kind of unselfing (rather than the creation of a virtuous self). These specific features can be linked to some of her inspirations including Western and Eastern mysticism, Buddhism, and Simone Weil.

Sarah Banks - Variations on the theme of professional integrity: character and conduct in social work

Variations on the theme of professional integrity: character and conduct in social work

‘Professional integrity’ features in many codes of ethics for social work internationally. The term usually refers to behaviour in accordance with accepted standards of professional conduct (particularly honesty), which does not damage public confidence in individual professionals or the profession as whole. In this paper I will explore how professional integrity features in misconduct hearings held by the regulatory body (Health and Care Professions Council) covering social work in England, when serious concerns are raised about social workers’ fitness to practise. In addition to deciding whether misconduct occurred, panels also decide on sanctions (e.g. a caution or striking off the name from the register of qualified professionals). Here the character of the registrant is taken into account, including degrees of insight and remorse expressed, the likelihood of misconduct re-occurring and potential for ‘remediation’. I will consider what concept of professional integrity is in use in these hearings and to what extent it can be regarded as a ‘virtue’ according to theories of virtue ethics.   


Katherin Barg and James Conroy - Does Character Education work? - A study of a pedagogical intervention in Scottish secondary schools

Does Character Education work? - A study of a pedagogical intervention in Scottish secondary schools

This study offers an assessment of the long term effects of an intervention in Scotland. Contributing to the evolving corpus of research on character education interventions in schools, our paper reports findings of a study evaluating the effects of a Scottish character education programme on a number of secondary students’. Six values, associated qualities, goals in life and plans of action were explored. Students also had to choose qualities they feel they exhibit and those that need development. This paper offers an original contribution to the longer term impact of this particular programmatic intervention, (school year 2011/2012). It intends to unearth the extent to which, 2 years after the initial participation in the programme, students (1) feel a stronger self-knowledge (2) developed habits of self-reflection (3) have a stronger positive emotional disposition. We designed a quasi-experiment; comparing these students with a similar control group and gathered information on students through a survey, and on teachers via an online survey. We ran simple bivariate tests to examine whether the group of students who participated in the programme significantly differ from controls with regard to five outcomes and potentially associated student-, teacher- and school characteristics; secondly, we apply a non-parametric ‘matching-method’ that compares students who participated in the programme with ‘twin’-students who did not participate in the programme. This counterfactual approach will enable us to identify the distinct effect of the programme. The analysis sample consists of 150 students. Given that to date, the data has been collected but not analysed, no information on preliminary results can be provided. On the date of the conference, final findings will be presented.

Marvin Berkowitz and David Shields - Mapping the Domain of Virtues

Mapping the Domain of Virtues

When Glinda first meets Dorothy she promptly asks, “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” John Dewey, sought to undermine the pervasive yet corrupting human tendency to sort reality into neat, dualistic categories. Conceptions of character and virtue often follow a similar path aligned with Glinda’s assumption that people can be divided into virtuous or evil.
One can conceive of people as virtuous or not, as having character or not, but this is not overly helpful. It assumes more uniformity to character and virtue than exist. One problem is overgeneralisation, many scholars focus on one aspect of character or virtue and treat it as the entire phenomenon; e.g. moral reasoning or GRIT. Another problem is that of homogenisation; treating all virtue as one, we lose the conceptual nuances of different aspects of virtue.
To help address these problems, taxonomy of virtue is advised. Recent interest in different sub-categories of virtue supports such a project. The distinction between moral and non-moral virtues, intrapersonal and interpersonal virtues, etc. provides fertile territory for the development of such taxonomy.
We combine the virtue taxonomies proposed to generate an integrated map of character/virtue, and highlight the importance of such a map for educational efforts.

Lorraine Besser-Jones - Virtue Ethics as Social Science: How naturalistic can it get?

Virtue Ethics as Social Science: How naturalistic can it get?

Virtue ethics is, in many respects, uniquely posed to be a promising candidate for a fully naturalized normative theory. Its focus on the development of character and commitment to understanding the normative ideal in terms of this development and more generally in terms of features of human nature seem natural extensions of the naturalistic project. This focus positions virtue ethics squarely within the domain of moral psychology; as moral psychology has become increasingly informed by the social sciences, so too has virtue ethics. All of this begs the question: could virtue ethics itself be conceived as a social science, or are there limits to the naturalization project? In this paper, I’ll explore the viability of a fully naturalized virtue ethics by considering two avenues with the potential to establish a naturalized account of normativity: one teleological, one by analogy with health.

Tonia Bock and Logan Lufte - A New Moral Identity Measure: Integrating Thomistic Virtue Ethics with an Eriksonian Youth Development Perspective

A New Moral Identity Measure: Integrating Thomistic Virtue Ethics with an Eriksonian Youth Development Perspective

Moral identity is broadly conceptualised as the degree to which one prioritises and defines herself in terms of moral goals, values and commitments. In attempting to empirically study moral identity, psychologists have had to define the construct more specifically. Though many moral identity measures have clear psychological theoretical foundations, few (if any) have either explicit philosophical foundations or psychological developmental underpinnings. We attempt to rectify this by creating a new moral identity measure that integrates Thomistic virtue ethics with an Eriksonian youth development perspective.

Our moral identity measure has three components: (1) rank the top five qualities for whom she strives to be, (2) the degree to which she reflects upon a variety of ways of being, (3) the depth of commitment to her five chosen qualities. Data collected from 223 participants who completed our measure along with measures of several other variables; e.g., integrity (Schlenker, 2008).

Findings showed unique groups existed of those who chose Thomistic virtues versus those who chose non-virtues, differences among the virtue and non-virtue selectors in the degree to which they reflected upon and committed to their chosen qualities, and group differences in integrity, identity achievement, and community engagement motivation. In sum, our new measure shows exciting potential; having a strong philosophical and psychological developmental basis, and the ability to distinguish meaningful individual differences in moral identity.

David Carr - Towards a Moral Realist Conception of Virtue Education

Towards a Moral Realist Conception of Virtue Education

MacIntyre’s anti-realist and constructivist account of virtue is a significant philosophical departure from Aristotelian virtue ethics and of those modern virtue ethicists who have followed this approach. It would seem that anti-realist virtue ethics is even more at odds with the pre-Aristotelian virtue ethics of Socrates and Plato which appear to be of a yet more moral realist temper than the ethical naturalism of Aristotle. Thus, Socrates and Plato would both seem to have been committed to a conception of virtue grounded in a search for liberation from ego-driven delusion or self-deception via rigorous self-examination of our less rational desires/motives.
This paper argues that if the MacIntyean view, that narratives and stories represent the basic logical form of human moral understanding, is reinforced by the rather un-Platonic idea of Iris Murdoch, that such literature provides an ideal means to critical examination of the motives of ourselves and others, then the Socratic/Platonic goal of honest self-scrutiny may be greatly assisted by moral readings of serious drama, fiction and poetry in schools and other educational contexts. In fact, it seems reasonably clear that one key goal of some great writers is to assist audiences/readers to a Socratic-Platonic liberation from the personal fantasies and local prejudices that often cloud our perceptions of self and others.


Ruth Cigman - Thinking about character education: reflections on argument and style

Thinking about character education: reflections on argument and style

 The JCCV’s Framework for Character Education asserts: “All schools to be explicit about how they develop the character virtues of their students”. This sounds reasonable if the alternative is to educate in a way that is “assumed, unconscious, reactive and random”. However ‘explicit’ can also mean ‘articulated in a way that is minimally offensive or ambiguous’, and it tends towards a high level of generality.
I explore in this paper the relationship between two aspects of philosophy, argument and style, in relation to character education. Kristjansson (2007) rejects three claims associated with what he sees as the prevailing particularism:
1. general moral truths should be abandoned in favour of particular ones

2. the perception of particulars is epistemologically prior to the guidance of universal beliefs

3. what is morally correct is morally correct because the phronimos (perfectly practically rational person) deems it to be so
These arguments are not contextualised in the manner that they require, and are not inherently clear. Kristjansson’s claim about what makes something ‘morally correct’ is, I argue, obscure. Aristotle did say something similar; grappling with a profoundly difficult question that has important implications for education. If I am not a phronimos, how am I reliably to identify one? What are the implications for education, especially character education, where many subtle emotional issues are likely to be at play.
It is argued that generalising arguments tend stylistically to exemplify the positions they defend. Empirical research can yield important insights, but not at the expense of expansive styles of thinking that are needed for readers and pupils alike.

Richard Conrad - Human Practice and God’s Making-Good in Aquinas’ Virtue Ethics

Human Practice and God’s Making-Good in Aquinas’ Virtue Ethics

Thomas Aquinas recognised the “cardinal” virtues of classical ethics (prudence, justice, courage and temperance) and held with Aristotle that we acquire them by practice. He also recognised “theological” virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity) given by God. It is not well known that he recognised “infused” – God-given – versions of the cardinal virtues, and of all the virtues Aristotle discussed. By them, God fits the human psyche for a journey to a divine goal. Aquinas refuses to disentangle the roles of acquired and infused virtues, but I shall argue each is indispensable. If God brings a sinner to repentance, infused virtues enable him to avoid serious sin while he gradually builds up acquired virtues; in turn, these protect him from “total moral collapse” if he commits serious sin and (as Aquinas sees it) loses the infused virtues. Thus Aquinas shows how “grace perfects nature” in the difficult project of achieving moral integrity.

Sandra Cooke and Peter Alcock - A sociological imagination of virtue ethics: is symbiosis possible?

A sociological imagination of virtue ethics: is symbiosis possible?

 Virtue Ethics emphasises the character of the individual, how virtues are developed and applied. Social Sciences seek to explain the social world, and how individuals relate to it. Although limited academic work has addressed how these two approaches might be reconciled, it is our contention that they have more to say to one another than this might suggest. They share concerns for justice and fairness, and both believe in improving peoples’ lives and search for a better world. There should be a close relationship between the two yet, often, parochial practices have prevented interdisciplinary engagement.
Our findings reveal how potentially virtuous agents (teachers) are bounded by social structures within which they operate, and how these support or constrain active agency for the good. We present some preliminary analysis demonstrating how the different levels of structural context operate to shape the actions and intentions of the agents – macro, meso and micro levels.
Media debate about virtues in education often focuses either on the failings of individual teachers and teaching practices; or on the school, or policy context with no recognition of the individual teachers’ actions or motives. Both, of course, are wrong; and it is our contention that a symbiosis of social science understanding of structure and agency, with the central role of virtue ethics in informing and improving teaching practice, will help us to understand and overcome such prejudices.

Sean Cordell - Can there be a Virtue Ethics of Institutions?

Can there be a Virtue Ethics of Institutions? 

I consider this question in light of Slote’s proposal for an ‘agent-based’ account of social justice, on which we can evaluate a society in terms of the morally virtuous motives being expressed in the ‘actions’ of laws, institutions and customs. I first motivate Slote’s project, then present two interpretations of his account: one which assesses the actual or apparently manifest motives of a sufficient number of individuals who instantiate social and political institutions, and one where social and political institutions are thought of as discrete agents which themselves express or reflect quasi-motives , aside from any particular individual’s actual or apparent motive.
I argue that both of these formulations of the agent-based picture of social justice meet the same problem. For example, with regard to individuals’ motives, what would count as the good or virtuous motive qua political participant or representative can only be properly specified by prior reference to the expectations attached to particular social or political roles.
Having exposed the problems in the agent-based approach, I end by considering whether and to what extent it generalizes and threatens to hamper any kind of virtue ethical project in social and political philosophy.

Clark Cunningham - Operationalizing Virtue Ethics Research in Professional Education

Operationalizing Virtue Ethics Research in Professional Education

What has been the impact, and the potential future impact, of virtue ethics research on the design and assessment of professional education programs intended to develop capacities for ethical decision making and promote the formation of an ethical professional identity? After surveying trends in professional education, in particular as documented by the recent reports of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and initiatives around the world, especially in law, to require measurable learning outcomes for ethics education, the paper will focus on ways the recent empirical research of the Jubilee Centre on Virtues and Values in the Profession can be used to guide curricular innovation in legal education.

Randall Curren - A Virtue Theory of Moral Motivation

A Virtue Theory of Moral Motivation

It is uncontroversial within virtue ethics and virtue theory generally that states of character and most, if not all, virtues have a motivational component: they dispose their possessors to act in certain ways and shape the states of mind and motives that occasion and substantially explain specific acts (Brandt, 1988: Adams, 2006). Faced with the charge that “virtue ethics cannot give an account of ‘moral motivation’”, virtue ethicists often level the counter-charge that it is less admirable to visit a friend in the hospital out of a sense of duty, than to visit the friend out of compassion.

Despite the importance of motivation to the idea of character and debates that divide moral theorists, motivation remains remarkably under-theorized in virtue theory. Using some recent accounts of virtuous motivation in Aristotle’s ethics this paper will begin to fill this void. I argue, that Aristotle’s understanding of intrinsic value is strongly shaped by a conception of the divine, but no plausible account has been offered of how this informs Aristotle’s accounts of virtuous motivation and acting well.

The principal task of the paper will be to sketch a virtue-theoretic account of moral motivation. I will argue that Aristotle’s eudaimonism is basic, and that his accounts of virtue and of acting well are independently parasitic on the theory of value. The larger goal is to integrate a development of this conception with an account of the acquisition of virtue emphasizing a grasp of value, aspiration (to become better) and identity, and the transition from identified to integrated motivation.

Howard Curzer - Against Idealization in Virtue Ethics

Against Idealization in Virtue Ethics

Impossible-to-achieve ideals play a role in many theories of virtue ethics, but I shall argue that such idealization is theoretically problematic and practically pernicious. I shall show that three commonly-espoused doctrines depend upon idealizations: (1) the doctrine that virtues are correctives, (2) the doctrine that an act is right if and only if it is what a virtuous agent would characteristically do in the circumstances, and (3) the doctrine that people who have one virtue also have all of the other virtues. I shall argue against these doctrines by appealing to common sense, and by presenting counterexamples. 

Matthew Dennis - Varieties of Virtue Ethics in the Modern European Tradition - Nietzsche’s Potential Contribution

Varieties of Virtue Ethics in the Modern European Tradition - Nietzsche’s Potential Contribution

Robert Louden’s recent reading of Kant’s philosophy of virtue has been so persuasive that some moral philosophers now think twice about characterising Kant as a simple deontologist. Another figure who has begun to receive attention in this respect is Nietzsche. While none of Nietzsche’s texts have a sustained account of virtue which is comparable to Kant’s Doctrine of Virtue, throughout his mature work he refers to the concept of virtue (Tugend) and it seems to play a vital role in his positive moral philosophy. Philosophers such as Christine Swanton have made a good case for why Nietzsche’s philosophical resources have something to offer contemporary virtue ethics.
This paper will suggest that Swanton is right to say that her reading of Nietzsche’s virtue ethics does not exhaust his philosophical resources. I will propose that there are two equally promising ways in which Nietzschean-inspired virtue ethics could proceed: first, by closely attending to the formal qualities of Nietzsche’s account of virtue; second, by seriously considering whether Nietzsche’s ethical ideal of Einheit is a viable alternative to those versions of eudaimonia proposed by Aristotle and the Hellenistic schools. While the former strategy has recently received some attention in the Nietzsche scholarship, the latter has received none, which is odd since Nietzsche’s ethical ideal is perhaps more closely aligned with the concerns of virtue ethicists today. My paper will focus on how these two aspects of Nietzsche’s account of virtue might help solve some pressing concerns in contemporary debates in virtue ethics, especially how these aspects of Nietzsche’s account can enrich our understanding of the virtue tradition’s two central concepts.

Joseph Dunne - From field to forest? Exploring limits of virtue theory

From field to forest? Exploring limits of virtue theory

Charles Taylor has credited Iris Murdoch with helping to bring Anglophone moral philosophy out of the corral and into the field - ‘corral’ here symbolising the sphere of what it is right to do in terms of our obligations to others, and ‘field’ symbolising how it is good to live in terms of our own flourishing as human beings. But Taylor credits Murdoch with also opening up a perspective beyond the field on the ‘forest’ - a symbol for him of what most fully deserves our love and may draw us along a transformative path on which flourishing is displaced, or radically reconfigured, as the ultimate goal of human living. In this paper, I would like to examine such displacement or reconfiguration, especially as linked with spiritual and religious traditions and as bearing import for how virtue - so central to Aristotelian conceptions of flourishing - is to be understood and evaluated. 

Stephan Ellenwood - A Silent Partner, A Grim Visage, or A Savvy Pioneer?

A Silent Partner, A Grim Visage, or A Savvy Pioneer?

Conducted properly, education is ultimately about growth, change, and progress. Education, as a profession and as a social science, has too often ignored that basic, fundamental premise, in favor of a less contentious and less interesting responsibility to graduate students who have mastered a fixed and measureable set of information and skills. This development is largely based on a common and false distinction between cognitive and non-cognitive learning. Such false dichotomies have led to countless fads, pseudo-reforms, and pendulum swings regarding curriculum design and classroom practices. Integrating virtue ethics into schooling provides an excellent remedy for this damaging false dichotomy.

Several efforts have emerged to re-balance the K-12 curriculum and classroom practices. Singapore has searched the globe for ways to reform their K-12 schooling so that it emphasizes critical thinking, creativity, and moral-ethical understanding. Chinese educators are recognizing the need to de-emphasize formal testing and erase the cognitive/non-cognitive border. The forces maintaining the status quo are formidable, but the reform impact is being felt.

Even though virtue ethics has been revivified in many places, it often remains a silent partner in the classroom; educators usually acknowledge its importance while lamenting that they “don’t have time for it.” They admit that failure to treat virtue ethics sends a message that moral understandings are either less important than the fixed curriculum or that students should develop those understandings on their own.

Elaine Englehardt and Michael Pritchard - Challenges to Professional Integrity

Challenges to Professional Integrity

Given that professionals have knowledge and expertise that most of us lack, we depend on them to serve us competently and reliably even when we are not well positioned to observe, understand, or assess their work. What, if anything, qualifies professionals as being trustworthy in such circumstances?

Plato’s story of the Ring of Gyges, David Hume’s example of the sensible knave, and Immanuel Kant’s depiction of the prudent steward all raise important philosophical questions about integrity, professional or otherwise. Contemporary research in moral psychology suggests to some that “situationist” factors provide a more plausible account of responsible professional behavior than the sorts of robust virtues that professional integrity seems to call for. In responding to these challenges we outline an approach to teaching ethics in higher education that we believe can support taking the idea professional integrity seriously.


Matt Ferkany - Virtue, Reasons and Intuition

Virtue, Reasons and Intuition

Theories of virtue provide an answer to the question, “What is it that makes a trait a virtue?”. In recent literature three types of theory of virtue are common; all of them forms of ethical naturalism. Eudaimonistic theories identify the virtues with the qualities that enable us to flourish in common with others. Sentimentalist theories identify them with qualities that would win the approbation of an ideal observer. Consequentialist theories identify them with love of intrinsic goods. This paper explores a possibility missing from this list that engages recent work in moral rationalism.
Moral rationalism is historically associated with the deontological accounts of right action, but virtue in both the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions embody responsiveness to reason. An adequate account of virtue in this tradition must therefore provide a criterion making virtuous moral agents responsive to what Scanlon has called “the reasons that are,” i.e. the existing considerations favouring one course of action over another. I argue that eudaimonistic and consequentialist theories fail this test and that the only adequate theory of virtue is a “thin theory”, according to which the virtues are just those qualities through which the virtuous person is able to detect and respond to the reasons there are.

Kevin Gary - Søren Kierkegaard’s Aesthete and Pedagogy for Virtue

Søren Kierkegaard’s Aesthete and Pedagogy for Virtue 

Moral education, whether the cognitive-developmental approach of Lawrence Kohlberg or the character approach advocated by Thomas Lickona, is fundamentally optimistic. It is hopeful that teachers can set in motion the ethical agency of students and the transition from amoral to moral frameworks is thought to be a reasonable goal. Yet Alasdair MacIntyre, in his tale on the discord of contemporary moral discourse in After Virtue, casts doubt on such optimism.
Søren Kierkegaard, according to MacIntyre, enticingly argues that frameworks that guide human choice are fundamentally incompatible. The decision to choose one framework over another involves an irrational, arbitrary “leap”. This discussion is pertinent to virtue ethics because Kierkegaard’s aesthete, a precursor of today’s distracted and perpetually amused self, poses an intractable challenge for pedagogies that aspire to cultivate virtue.
In this essay I make a case for Kierkegaard’s indispensable contribution to a pedagogy that aims to impart virtue. Specifically, I examine the challenge the aesthetic sphere poses for virtue ethics, noting the interior moves that precede, undergird, and sustain the transition from the aesthetic to the ethical sphere. Second, I explore Kierkegaard’s pedagogical approach that aims to reach the aesthete.

Philip Gorski - Recovered Goods: Durkheimian Sociology as Virtue Ethics

Recovered Goods: Durkheimian Sociology as Virtue Ethics

The secondary literature on Emile Durkheim has generally emphasized the influence of French neo-Kantianism on his theories. In this paper, I identify a number of Aristotelian motifs in Durkheim's work, such as balance and eudaimonia. I also present circumstantial evidence that Durkheim may have obscured Aristotle's influence on his work in order to mark a break between philosophy and sociology and in order to distance himself from his rival, Gabriel Tarde. I conclude that Durkheim's normative vision was anchored by a notion of communal flourishing.

Liz Gulliford and Blaire Morgan - Measuring Virtuous Gratitude

Measuring Virtuous Gratitude

The paper applies an Aristotelian approach to virtue ethics to gratitude, which was not regarded as a virtue by Aristotle himself. Gratitude has often been cast in an unambiguously good light, taking little or no account of whether gratitude is appropriate in a given situation; to be grateful to the right person, for the right reason and to the right degree.

The Attitude for Gratitude project at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has been engaged in research which aims to illuminate empirically factors that influence gratitude. Findings from using a vignette questionnaire have shed light on the matter of being grateful to the right person, for the right reasons and to the right degree.

We have utilised a subset of the vignette questionnaire to develop a comprehensive Multi-Component Gratitude Measure (MCGM) which examines various facets of gratitude. This ground-breaking measure is the first to incorporate a conceptual component that accesses respondents’ fundamental understanding of the concept of gratitude. The paper will present preliminary findings from this innovative questionnaire.

Our research has shown that people nuance perceptions of gratitude along broadly Aristotelian lines. This paper sheds light on the question of what it means to manifest virtuous gratitude and demonstrates the value of bringing philosophy into dialogue with psychology in order to create better measures based on a rigorous conceptual analysis.

John Haldane - Virtue ethics in the medieval period

Virtue ethics in the medieval period

Ethical theorising in the middle ages draws upon a diversity of sources: Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy; Biblical texts, and religious and legal traditions. A major element is the placing of virtue in relation to other objects of evaluation such as type of acton and outcome. It features also in what would now be termed 'normative ethics'. I will consider these issues and consider what we can kern today from medieval accounts of virtue as represented by the thought of Thomas Aquinas.

Hyemin Han - Exploring Relation between Aristotelian Moral Philosophy, Moral Psychology, and Contemporary Neurosciences

Exploring Relation between Aristotelian Moral Philosophy, Moral Psychology, and Contemporary Neurosciences

 The main purpose of this essay is to explore the relation between Aristotelian moral philosophy, moral psychology, and recent neurosciences. This essay discusses whether motivational externalism can be supported by recent neuroscientific evidence. I propose that given various neurosurgical studies from Phineas Gage’s case study to ventromedial prefrontal cortical (VMPFC) lesion experiments, the findings can refute motivational internalism, and can support motivational externalists. Those studies have shown that developed and sophisticated moral reasoning does not necessarily generate moral motivation and actual moral behavior at the end. Instead, there is a motivational force that drives our moral behavior independent from reasoning-based moral judgment from the vantage point of neurosciences.
Second, I demonstrate whether or not findings in developmental neuroscience correspond to moral developmental theory inspired by Aristotelian ethics. Recent studies conducted by developmental neuroscientists show that the developmental process, early habituation followed by development of reasoning, actually occurs in human brains. In addition, intervention-based neuroimaging studies would give us inspiration about how the development of habit and reasoning can be stimulated by interventions by demonstrating that neural-level changes are occurring during the course of the interventions.
I assert that recent neuroscience studies can support Aristotelian moral philosophy and developmental psychology.

Edward Harcourt - ‘Formal’ Virtues and Familiar Virtues

‘Formal’ Virtues and Familiar Virtues

A number of recent attempts to describe human excellence – from the 2013 CBI Education and Skills survey to recent commentary on Nietzsche, and indeed Nietzsche himself - have as their focus what I shall call ‘formal’ or ‘process’ excellences. A process excellence contrasts with a stable state of character. A formal excellence is (negatively) a characteristic that brings with it no end or good of its own, and (positively) a way in which a person’s attitudes or the parts of his psyche relate to one another, either at a time or over time. Self-reliance, self-rule, ‘resilience’, adaptability and, perhaps, psychological maturity are all examples. The aim if my paper is to explore the relationship between formal and process excellences on the one hand, and more familiar virtues on the other. In particular, I shall ask whether a coherent conception of human excellence can be built up out of formal and/or process excellences – as opposed to more familiar virtues – alone.

Allan Hazlett - A Humean Approach to Intellectual Virtue

A Humean Approach to Intellectual Virtue

The distinction between moral and intellectual virtue has had a big influence on the development of virtue ethics and epistemology. Aristotle’s conception of intellectual virtue is eudaemonist as well as organic, while contemporary virtue epistemologists employ a conception of intellectual virtue that is rationalist and teleological. Here I propose a third conception of intellectual virtue, based on Hume’s accounts of the virtues in the Treatise and the second Enquiry.

On the Humean approach, contrary to both the Aristotelian and contemporary conceptions, an intellectual virtue is a personal quality that is both (i) intellectual and (ii) either pleasant or useful to the possessor or to other people. Intellectual personal qualities are distinguished from others by the domain with which they are concerned.

Here I consider some advantages of this Humean approach. Some virtue ethicists distinguish the various virtues by appeal to the idea that they are concerned with different domains: human life is composed of a set of distinctive activities, each associated with a personal excellence. On the Humean approach that I propose, the intellectual virtues are just a subset of the virtues, namely, those associated with intellectual activities. The theory of intellectual virtue is thus a branch of virtue ethics.

Gabe Ignatow - How to Study Morality Online

How to Study Morality Online

Social researchers interested in lay morality have at their disposal a variety of traditional research methods, from large-scale surveys to ethnographic interviews and experiments. But these offline methods are not optimized for studying social discourses and deliberations in the social media environments where such discussions are increasingly held. In this paper I review state-of-the-art research methods for studying moral discussions in online environments, including online surveys, virtual ethnography, opinion mining, and text analysis. These qualitative, mixed-method, and quantitative techniques are evolving quickly, but have to this point been underutilized by social researchers interested in morality. I review exemplary studies that make use each of these online methods, and consider the advantages and drawbacks of each method as well as the long-term potential of each to generate new knowledge about communities’ values, beliefs, and moral deliberations.

Eranda Jayawickreme - Does Adversity Make Us Wiser Than Before? Addressing A Foundational Question

Does Adversity Make Us Wiser Than Before? Addressing A Foundational Question

Almost all major philosophical and theological traditions have argued that experiencing adversity can lead to greater wisdom, and many psychologists have further proposed that increased wisdom is one potential benefit of adversity. However, it is unclear which virtues and skills are most likely to result from experiencing adversity. In particular, one significant challenge is that the causal relationship between different forms of adversity and wisdom has not been clearly articulated theoretically, and moreover no empirical work has directly addressed this relationship. The present project seeks to investigate the relationship between adversity and wisdom, as we believe that due to lack of clarity of the questions being asked, the best thinking and scholarship has thus far remained silent on this issue.

Mark Jonas - Habituation and Role-Modeling in Plato’s Early and Middle Dialogues

Habituation and Role-Modeling in Plato’s Early and Middle Dialogues

Recent studies in virtue ethics in education have all but forgotten Plato. He still wields considerable influence concerning dialogue in education and the importance of Socratic questioning, but his championing of eudaimonia and his project for the cultivation of the virtues necessary to attain it have been largely ignored. The neglect of Plato’s ethics stems at least partially from some widely held but questionable interpretations of Plato’s epistemology and metaphysics. The neglect of Plato’s virtue ethics is troubling in that Plato has insights to offer educators seeking to cultivate virtues in their students — insights which could contribute to the development of well-rounded approaches to character education.
This paper will promote Plato’s ethics as a resource for theorists and educators who seek to develop a robust approach to character education. Concerning the early dialogues, it will be argued that Socrates’ (in)famous ethical and epistemological claims are meant to serve as pedagogical devices designed to encourage individuals to emulate Socrates’ pursuit of virtue. Concerning the middle dialogues, it will be argued that the metaphysical theory of the Forms and the philosopher’s ability alone to attain knowledge of them are not to be taken literally. Virtue is not attained by cognitive contemplation of the Forms but by the development of certain character traits that can only be achieved through habituation and a type of role modeling. It will be argued that Plato’s educational project adds to Aristotle’s in an important way by offering an educational framework in which students who missed the proper habituation and role modeling in their early educations could develop the desire and discipline to pursue habituation and role modeling in their later educations.

Kohtaro Kamizono - Value Education for Enhancing a Self-affirmative Consciousness

Value Education for Enhancing a Self-affirmative Consciousness

Value education to teach each moral value separately is useful, as in Japanese moral education. Choice of a moral value is left to each individual of diverse character and society in this type of value education. On the other hand value education lessons to teach individual values is shallow, if the value does not reach the depth of self-affirmative consciousness.
This paper addresses nine lessons about sympathy using an enjoyable folk story in order to enhance self-affirmative consciousness of students. The lessons were identical in terms of teacher, learning material, lesson plan and value. Assessment of each lesson employed an association method before and after each lesson.
Results suggest that self-affirmative consciousness increased significantly, indicating that the value education lesson is effective in increasing self-affirmative consciousness. The classes which showed listening ability and could recall factors of the folk story achieved self-affirmative consciousness. The classes which found the definition of sympathy achieved self-affirmative consciousness. The classes where the function of self-reflection at the end process of the lesson was effective achieved self-affirmative consciousness quantitatively and/or qualitatively.
The results seem to support a triangular relationship between listening attitude, value awareness and self-affirmative consciousness; value learning leads to self-affirmative character according to one's listening attitude. This triangular hypothesis about moral education teaching, could create a framework within a moral education lesson, based on reflection on one's future self, in order to enhance the self-affirmative consciousness of children.

Peter Koller - On the Significance of Moral Virtues in the Realm of Law

On the Significance of Moral Virtues in the Realm of Law

The paper consists of four parts. The first part deals with the relationship between law, morality and justice in order to illuminate the impact of – conventional and critical – morality on legal orders in general. Then, the second part focuses on the role of virtues within morality with the result that moral virtues are indispensable ingredients for an effective moral practice and a lively moral discourse. On this basis, the rest of the paper is dedicated to the significance of moral virtues in the realm of law: while their function in the formation and preservation of flourishing legal orders is inquired in the third part, their importance for everyday legal practice is dealt with in the fourth part.

Michael Luntley - The virtue of play

The virtue of play

In this paper I argue that the ability for play, for the creative and imaginative exploration, creation and sustenance of orders to experience that draw upon our aesthetic sensibility, rather than our conceptual abilities, is central to any account of what makes learning possible. The virtue of playfulness is core to the way that the individual learner bootstraps their way into conceptual understanding and intelligent mastery of their environment. Playfulness is not an ‘extra’ virtue, something that might be added to an account of intellectual development when time and resources permit. It is the core virtue. It is the ability that renders the development of other conceptual abilities possible. Without playfulness, there is no such thing as learning.

Nicolette Manglos-Weber - Measuring Flourishing in the Narratives U.S. Emerging Adults: Results and Reflections from a Mixed-Methods Sociological Study

Measuring Flourishing in the Narratives U.S. Emerging Adults: Results and Reflections from a Mixed-Methods Sociological Study

 What does it mean for young adults today to “do well”? The expansion of inequality and loosening of prescriptive cultural models for employment, marriage, and family make it more and more difficult to assess whether certain young adults are flourishing in life in relation to their diverse cultural and socioeconomic starting points. If we are to assess flourishing in this context, we must recognize its variability while still maintaining some sense of its core common characteristics.
This paper combines both survey data and interviews with a subset of a panel of American young adults to show how sociological research can attend to the multifaceted nature of flourishing, while still taking advantage of existing datasets.
I suggest that the best strategy is one that combines listening to personal narratives with evaluating questionnaire responses; and that the ability to recognize patterns in one’s own history and spin them into a satisfying narrative is something young adults who are flourishing on multiple dimensions seem to share. Thus, not only does human activity only make sense within the context of larger narratives, but also those who are able to tell their own story in relation to a larger narrative effectively are able to flourish in spite of—or at times because of—pain and suffering.

Terrance McConnell - Virtue and Moral Lapses

Virtue and Moral Lapses

Long ago I argued that gratitude is both a duty and a virtue. A person can fail with respect to gratitude, I claimed, by not performing suitable actions in appropriate circumstances, by not developing appropriate attitudes and dispositions, or by performing the right act but for a bad reason or doing so only grudgingly. Some critics argued that gratitude is a virtue but not a duty. The critic supposed that any failure with respect to gratitude is a failure to cultivate fully the relevant virtue. Against this, I will argue that someone who has cultivated the virtue of gratitude can still fail to act on a suitable occasion. I will describe several lapses that a virtuous agent might experience, and then address the more difficult question of whether some of these lapses demonstrate moral culpability. If my arguments are plausible, they will apply to other so-called action virtues.

Christian Miller - Aristotle, Contemporary Psychology, and the Space between Virtue and Vice

Aristotle, Contemporary Psychology, and the Space between Virtue and Vice

Contemporary virtue ethicists have inherited a famous taxonomy of character types from Aristotle. We are all familiar with the labels of the virtuous, vicious, continent, and incontinent person. The virtuous are said to have the best moral character, the vicious the worst, with the continent person’s character closer to being virtuous and the incontinent person’s character closer to being vicious.

The goal of this paper is to argue that contemporary virtue ethicists, especially those working in the Aristotelian tradition, should jettison this framework. The main reason is that psychological research in the past fifty years has suggested a much more complex picture of moral character than what can be usefully captured by these four categories. In its place, I will suggest a better taxonomy that makes use of the idea of what I call mixed character.

Justin Oakley - Maintaining primary professional virtues by protecting properly-oriented relationships: Medical practice as a case study

Maintaining primary professional virtues by protecting properly-oriented relationships: Medical practice as a case study

In being entrusted with serving certain socially-valued goals, professionals are expected to be guided by specific normative dispositions. These dispositions help to define and distinguish between various kinds of good professional-client/patient relationships. For example, to qualify as a therapeutic relationship a doctor-patient relationship must not only promote the patient’s health, but must arguably also involve the doctor being governed in their clinical decision-making by a commitment to serving their patient’s best health interests. In this paper I argue that protecting the proper orientation of professional-client/patient relationships is a crucial way of maintaining the respective primary virtues among practitioners in each profession. For example, taking medicine as a case study, I argue that the primary medical virtue of medical beneficence is (and should be) supported by protecting the therapeutic orientation of doctor-patient relationships against potentially undermining influences. I also discuss the role of certain situational and non-situational factors in considering how states might justifiably support practitioners’ medical virtues, given the increasing commercialisation of medical practice, and I reflect on the implications of this argument for virtue ethics more generally.

Kevin Orangers and Peggy Sweeney - Ethical framework to Liberty Education at the National Liberty Museum

Ethical framework to Liberty Education at the National Liberty Museum

 The National Liberty Museum (NLM), Philadelphia, is located in the birthplace of the United States’ democracy. Surrounded by institutions that present historical artefacts of American liberty, the NLM stands out as a character education resource centre, treating liberty as a living, moral construct.
We will present our pedagogical approach to liberty education – conceptualized at the nexus of character and civic education – that teaches the ‘practice’ of liberty from an agentic perspective. Participants will learn how at the NLM:
• Our educators use more than 2,000 interactive exhibits of liberty heroes from around the world; moral exemplars who have enacted virtues to expand, protect and practice liberty.
• Our educators facilitate Museum Learning Experiences to engage students in acquiring the concepts of liberty and its associated virtues, and make the concepts relevant.
• We have developed a web-based liberty education curriculum that students and teachers can participate in before and after visiting the NLM to extend learning and build an online community.
• Our Young Heroes Club program empowers young people to become liberty agents by enacting the virtues they are learning through student initiated service projects.

We will also share the NLM’s progress mid-way through a strategic plan that charts the expansion of our programming from Philadelphia to schools and youth organizations across the US and eventually to a global audience.

Mariola Paruzel-Czachura - The ‘inner world’ is important – conclusions from four empirical studies on judgment of other people’s morality

The ‘inner world’ is important – conclusions from four empirical studies on judgment of other people’s morality

Modern virtue ethics theories emphasize not only the importance of behaviour for
the evaluation of other people’s morality, but also on the moral condition of the agent – his virtues, which from the psychological point of view are connected with relevant values and feeling some specific emotions and motivations (Szutta, 2012). Empirical data collected in the field of psychology is helpful to understand better human functioning and at the same time is a good argument in the old ethical discussions about what ethics and morality are or should be. Virtue ethics, as a naturalistic moral theory, also depends on these psychological results.
In moral psychology, we assume that being good is connected with positive behaviour, and the accepting of some universal values. However, the role of emotions and intentions for the sphere of morality is important to consider (e.g. Tyszka, 2010; Zylicz, 2010; Kristjánsson, 2010). This paper seeks to understand the role of other people’s emotions in the judgement of their morality. My recent research (N=33; N=328, N=357; N=320), including experimental methods, confirms the important influence of information about agent’s emotions and views on morality (Paruzel-Czachura, 2014).
According to respondents, being a moral, virtuous person is not only connected with good behaviour and accepting some values, but also feeling particular emotions. It indicates that young adults tend to evaluate other people from a virtue ethics perspective. These results provide empirical support to existing virtue ethics theories.

Andrew Pinsent - "Till we have faces” – second-person relatedness as the object, end and crucial circumstance of perfect or ‘infused’ virtues"
Till we have faces” – second-person relatedness as the object, end and crucial circumstance of perfect or ‘infused’ virtues

Does any child ever first acquire virtue in an Aristotelian manner? A subtle interpersonal play is the more typical locus of initial ethical formation. Moreover, many modern experiments, such as a picture of a pair of eyes being glued to an ‘honesty box’ (Bateson et al., 2006), reveal how virtuous actions by adults are also subtly encouraged by ‘second-person relatedness’ (SPR). Classical virtue ethics does not easily accommodate these phenomena, but I have argued previously (Pinsent, 2012) that the ‘infused’ dispositions described by Thomas Aquinas are already second- rather than first-personal. In this paper, I propose that these insights, with parallels in contemporary social neuroscience, highlight the need for a ‘Copernican Revolution’ of virtue ethics. I also review briefly some implications and propose ways in which the role of infused or second-person dispositions might be tested.

Geir Sigurðsson - On the Use and Abuse of Confucianism for Virtue Ethics

On the Use and Abuse of Confucianism for Virtue Ethics

 In recent years, a number of sophisticated authors have made the case that Confucian ethics ought to be understood and interpreted as virtue ethics in the Aristotelian tradition. Generally speaking, such comparative philosophical explorations are to be celebrated, if not only for the interest they stimulate in non-western philosophical traditions among western philosophers. However, there are reasons to believe that this particular interpretation may be communicating a misguided version of Confucianism that loses out on some of its more distinct and important characteristics. In this discussion I will expound some of these reasons and explain why I believe that understanding Confucianism as virtue ethics is inconvenient or even disadvantageous.


In recent years, a number of sophisticated authors have made the case that Confucian ethics ought to be understood and interpreted as virtue ethics in the Aristotelian tradition. Generally speaking, such comparative philosophical explorations are to be celebrated, if not only for the interest they stimulate in non-western philosophical traditions among western philosophers. However, there are reasons to believe that this particular interpretation may be communicating a misguided version of Confucianism that loses out on some of its more distinct and important characteristics. In this discussion I will expound some of these reasons and explain why I believe that understanding Confucianism as virtue ethics is inconvenient or even disadvantageous.


May Sim - Why Confucius’s Ethics is a Virtue Ethics

Why Confucius’s Ethics is a Virtue Ethics

Loosely construed, virtue ethics emphasizes the dispositions, character, motivation and virtues of the agent for evaluating morality. In other words, it is an ethics that focuses on the agent’s exemplary excellence. Contrary to rival ethical theories such as deontology and utilitarianism, that are characterized by an endorsement of universal rules or principles for assessing moral actions, virtue ethics maintains that what is right cannot be captured by universal principles. Rather, virtue ethics is qualified by its holistic focus on the agent’s virtues of character that: (i) not only constitute his goodness in all situations, but (ii) also lead to his having a flourishing life. Primarily, my aim is to consider how Confucius’s ethics emphasizes an exemplary person’s virtuous character, which character virtues can explain and assess morality. Secondarily, I argue for how Confucius’s ethics is not a role ethics, contrary to certain commentators’ interpretations. I conclude that Confucius’s ethics is a virtue ethics.


Michael Slote - Can Virtue Be Self-Taught?

Can Virtue Be Self-Taught?

Both Confucianism and prominent Western philosophers like Aristotle and Kant have held that people are capable of cultivating their own virtue and don't have to depend on others for moral improvement. But this paper argues that these traditions are unrealistic about the motivational factors that moral self-education would depend on and also about the effectiveness of the psychological mechanisms--constant repetition of good actions, inspiration by moral exemplars, and consistency-seeking extension of concern beyond original narrow groups--that are supposed to allow virtue to be self-taught. These negative considerations have implications for our usual assumptions about human moral responsibility. 

Gopal Sreenivasan - A plea for moral deference

A plea for moral deference

It seems to be a commonplace of the philosophical literature that there is no such thing as moral expertise. Or perhaps, more narrowly, that there is no such thing as justified deference to moral expertise, when there is moral expertise. On the other hand, a warrant for moral deference seems to have a secure place in everyday moral experience. It is illustrated, for example, by the ubiquitous phenomenon of taking moral advice (this includes a role for exemplars of individual moral virtues, but is not limited to exemplars of virtue). In this paper, I shall defend moral deference against overblown philosophical scepticism. I hope to contribute to rehabilitating the notion for some role in moral theory.

Jonathan Tudge and Lia Freitas - Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others”: The development of the virtue of gratitude in different societies

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others”: The development of the virtue of gratitude in different societies

In positive psychology, gratitude is viewed as a positive emotion rather than a virtue. One important difference is that whereas gratitude as a virtue is heavily related to positive retribution, something that is likely to forge or strengthen a connection between people, gratitude as an emotion is as likely to be felt when viewing a sunset or recognizing one’s good health as when another person has done something for one. A second methodological and empirical difference is that viewing gratitude as an emotion, rather than as a virtue, allows psychologists to study variations in the extent of gratitude, allowing correlational analyses with other measures of well-being.
Evidence can be drawn from the main scales that have been used to collect data from both adults and adolescents. None, though, take into account the three key attributes of gratitude as a virtue.
Gratitude as a human virtue is a complex concept, one that requires understanding that others have intentions and needs or desires different from our own (Nelson et al., 2013). Our research has focused on age-related changes in the expression of different types of gratitude and variations in their expression in different societies (the US, Brazil, Russia, and China).

Sungwoo Um - Virtue, Virtuous Activity, and Moral Self-Indulgence

Virtue, Virtuous Activity, and Moral Self-Indulgence

One distinctive feature of virtue ethics is its emphasis on action’s having roots in virtue, i.e., a stable state of character that incorporate proper motivational and emotional elements. Thomas Hurka argues that its excessive focus on virtue itself renders virtue ethics unable to explain why moral self-indulgence is objectionable.
I claim that virtue is better understood as a stable disposition to engage in virtuous activities in the given situations. I argue that virtue has mere potential intrinsic value until it is actualized in a virtuous activity, and that, even when it is actualized in a virtuous activity, it has an actual intrinsic value only as a part of that virtuous activity as a whole.
I argue that virtuous activity should be understood as a sort of organic unity which includes the agent’s virtue (e.g. benevolence) and its intentional object (e.g. a friend’s pleasure) as its two relata. In this framework, the intrinsic value of a virtuous activity is a function of two factors: the virtuousness of the agent’s response and the intrinsic value of the virtue’s intentional object.
In my framework, the second-order value of virtuous activity cannot simply be compared to the first-order value of its component; in any case, we cannot simply say that the first-order value is always greater than the second-order value, as Hurka does.

Candace Vogler - Turning to Aquinas on Virtue

Turning to Aquinas on Virtue

Many contemporary theorists of virtue working in the Aristotelian tradition recognize some strengths of character—hope, for example, or humility or gratitude—as virtues, even though Aristotle does not address these explicitly. I will argue that Aquinas's moral psychology, deeply indebted to Aristotle, gives insight into the role and structure of virtue in a way that helps to illuminate both the acquired virtues Aristotle recognized and the enlarged catalogue of virtues we now recognize. In order to do so, Aquinas distinguished acquired virtue from infused virtue. Infused virtue is a notoriously difficult topic. I will close by considering how contemporary philosophers who are concerned about taking Aquinas's theology on board might begin to cope with infused virtue.

Graham Ward - Every Sperm is Sacred

Every Sperm is Sacred

This paper argues that life is ethical: ethics is not some value-added predicate of the object life; it is not epiphenomenal. Returning to a religious conception of the world, interpreted for modernity by Hegel’s understanding of and work on Sittlichkeit, living itself is recognized as a learning and seeking to understand process – a pedagogy in self-world evaluation – that schools us in right or more wholesome ways of being, and being together. That is, educates and trains us at the dispositional level in both virtues and vices. The pursuit of the meaningful in our living points not simply to evolution and adaptation, but to the continual negotiation in and through dispositions that are at once biological, affective, and cognitive. At the cellular level, molecular biologists are now revisiting the notion of teleology. This is not a matter of just what happens in the single cell, but a concern with understanding the ways cells impact on, interact with and organize themselves as nuclei. I will examine these trends and conclude that we are given new directions today for understanding the perennial interest in virtue ethics as life ethics – not just as the basis for ethical life but foundational as the ethics of life.

Jonathan Webber - Honesty Distinguishes Misleading From Lying

Honesty Distinguishes Misleading From Lying

Virtues are dispositional, but it does not follow that each virtue is a single disposition. I argue that honesty includes the disposition to think, feel, and act in ways that treat outright lying as morally worse than deceiving by making true but misleading assertions. My argument is grounded in the naturalistic point that our kind of life requires us to rely on one another for information, which requires that we retain our own credibility and exert pressure on others to retain theirs. Misleading by making a true assertion with a false conversational implicature damages credibility less comprehensively than lying does. For misleading damages only the credibility of the speaker’s implicatures, whereas lying damages the credibility of the speaker’s assertions and implicatures. Thus, we ought to be disposed to distinguish morally between these forms of linguistic deception, but this disposition is clearly not the whole of the virtue of honesty.

Dan Wright - The Good Sense of an Aristotelian Approach to Moral Education

The Good Sense of an Aristotelian Approach to Moral Education

 Recent Party Political Conference speeches have put Character Education firmly back on the political and educational agenda for contemporary UK schooling. In September 2014, both the Secretary and Shadow Secretary of State for Education highlighted the ‘moral calling’ of teaching and the need to support innovative ideas to help schools and young people develop ‘character, resilience and grit’. For many teachers this marks a welcome departure from an exclusive and dangerously narrow focus on the acquisition of knowledge and skills, towards a much richer understanding of the basic intuition of their vocation: that great teaching is about enabling boys and girls to acquire virtue, to flourish. Whilst for many teachers this call to arms will strengthen what they already do so well, it will also bring with it considerable conceptual, critical and practical challenges, in addition to the almost inevitable cultural baggage surrounding the language of character. This paper advances the discussion from ‘whether character education’ should find a home in formal schooling to ‘which kind of Character Education, why and how’? It makes the case that a neo-Aristotelian inspired approach is the most fitting response to the crisis of contemporary moral education in UK schooling, and thinks through the nuts and bolts of its implementation and practice within schools. Building on the Jubilee Centre’s recent Framework for Character Education in Schools and Programme of Study for an 11 to 16 Taught Course, it takes the debate out of the (mythical) Ivory Tower, into the operational muck and bullets of today’s classrooms and schools. It suggests that Aristotle still has a tremendous amount to offer contemporary teachers and their boys and girls, helping them to act well and to think well, in short, to flourish.

Jiyuan Yu - Virtue in Daoism 

Virtue in Daoism  

When we mention virtue ethics in Chinese philosophy, it is Confucianism that usually comes to mind. The relevance of Daoism to virtue ethics has not received the attention it deserves. Yet what is translated as “virtue” is the term de. Of the two most important sources for early Daoist thought, the Daodejing literally means “Classic of Way [dao] and Virtue [de],” and the Zhuangzi also has de as one central concept.
Daoism is not an organized school in the classical period and the term “Daoism” was coined later. Nevertheless, it is not accidental that they are grouped together. The Daoejing and the Zhunagzi share the same approaches to the way and virtue, and this paper is an effort to elucidate the core ideas of virtue that are common in them. The paper begins by exploring the tension between the virtue of weakness and the virtue of wu-wei to determine what is the central conception of virtue in Daoism, and proceeds to examine the claim that “I have lost me.” (Zhuangzi, II.2) What is the “me” that is to be lost? What is the “I” that is left when “me” is lost? It is through answering these questions that the salient features of Daoist conception of virtue are revealed.