Saturday, August 23, 2008


most enjoyable new york times reading experience i've had in quite some time.

Monday, August 18, 2008

doing good. doing all right.

i'm taking a comp on friday, and i spent today reading about virtue ethics-- the ancient (most famously greek) notion that doing what's right is a matter of acting from good character.  it stands in some contrast to the deontological notion (most famously kant's) that doing what's right is a matter of acting on particular principles or maxims.  the theories have plenty in common, but here's where they contrast starkly:

according to most virtue theorists, perfect virtue consists in a flawless harmony between virtuous acts and the feeling and desires of the virtuous actor.  acting virtuously despite bad or conflicting feelings is (mere?) contingent virtue.  but according to kant, an act can only have moral worth when it conflicts with one's immediate desires.  it's not that our actions are necessarily bad if they happen to accord with our desires (if, say, we act generously because it feels good), but they aren't specifically moral-- if we act kindly because we feel like it, then the maxim that we're acting on isn't "act kindly" but "do what you feel like", which, kant says, is not a moral principle-- we certainly wouldn't want to make it a universal (moral) law that everyone in all circumstances should do what they feel like.

so is the more virtuous moral agent the one who has to wrestle with her own desires to do what she thinks is right, or the one who feels inclined to kindness and courage-- who is naturally or cultivated impervious to fear, envy, etc.?   here is a place where a disagreement in the philosophical literature seems to reflect conflicting notions in our everyday thinking about ethics and morality.  we count among our saints and heroes both sorts of agents.

i wonder what you think.  i'm inclined to agree with the virtue ethicists, but i'm conflicted.  haha.  fuck.

[ word of the day:  AESTIVAL (es-tuh-val) of or belonging to the summer.]