Friday, April 9, 2010

Weeks Seven & Eight: Virtue Ethics

From Thiroux & Kraseman:

Virtue Ethics: "A moral theory that had its beginnings with Aristotle and which is based not upon consequences, feelings or rules, but upon human beings developing a moral or virtuous character by doing what an ideal good or virtuous person would do" (289).

Kaplan: The authors' talk of "theory" remains a weakness in their discussion. In the terms of Francis Bacon (see below), their language is dominated by their disciplinary orientation, by the "Idols of the Theatre;" that is, their emphasis upon a taxonomic approach and their categories of ethical propositions is more a reflection of their own activity than a clear and parsimonious survey (or surview/overview) of philosophical propositions. Their taxonomy is more an artifact of their discipline and academic activity than a matter of philosophical inquiry or interest; perhaps the role of philosophy here is to describe what they are doing?Also from Bacon, they are proposing more order in the world than actually exits. While their categories are based upon observable characteristics, theory to theory, yet they are nonetheless engaged in a synthetic activity when one considers the actual complexities of the stream-of-life where we observe how ethical and moral decisions are thought about, talked about and made. They are proposing (and imposing) a sort of logical or synthetic order that is not present in nature; better to view philosophical propositions as propositions than as theoretical platforms. It is far better to approach each philosopher in his historical context, and simply and clearly--as simply and clearly as possible--identify what he is saying. The questions we then ask ourselves are "Does this proposition makes sense? Is this how things happen in the real world? Let's go through some examples and see what these ideas look like when we put them into practice...."

Virtue: "The quality of moral excellence, righteousness, responsibility; a specific type of moral excellence or other exemplary quality considered to be meritorious. For example, the cardinal or natural virtues are justice, prudence, fortitude, and temperance" (289).

The Virtues: "[T]he cardinal or natural virtues are justice, prudence, fortitude, and temperance" (289).

Nichomachean Ethics: "The system of ethics established by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C., named after his son Nicomachus" (286).
How are the virtues essential to living the good life? Page 61-62 Def. of Terms?
See the above links for an answer to this question (as it pertains to Aristotle and Confucius).

Telos or Eudemonia?

Proper Mean.

Confucius: 43-46, and above

Confucian attitudes towards law.

Self-Cultivation: 43, and above.

Advantages and Disadvantages of virtue ethics in the context of an overall theory of ethics:

Creating the Good Human Being
Unifying Reason and Emotions
Emphasizes Moderation

Do Human Beings have an End?
Are Morals Naturally Implanted?
What is Virtue and What Constitutes the Virtues?

Francis Bacon: Abstract Necessities and Four Idols

Francis Bacon observed that human beings have a tendency to draw the separate facts, particulars, and events of experience into abstract necessities, general laws, and "natural" mechanisms. According to Bacon in Aphorism 45 from Book I of the New Organum:

"The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. And though there be many things in nature which are singular and unmatched, yet it devises for them parallels and conjugates and relatives which do not exist. Hence the fiction that all celestial bodies move in perfect circles, spirals and dragons being (except in name) utterly rejected.Hence too the element of fire with its orb is brought in, to make up the square with the other three which the sense perceives.Hence also the ratio of density of the so-called elements is arbitrarily fixed at ten to one.And so on of other dreams.And these fancies affect not dogmas only, but simple notions also. " (50)

In Aphorisms 39 through 44 of The New Organon, Bacon defines four classes of "idols" which he says "beset men's minds."These four distinctions Bacon calls, first, Idols of the Tribe; second, Idols of the Cave; third, Idols of the Marketplace; fourth, Idols of the Theater.

The Idols of the Tribe, says Bacon, "have their foundation in human nature itself . . . [H]uman understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it." Our understanding is distorted by our own animal nature.

The Idols of the Cave "are the idols of the individual man . . . [M]en look for sciences in their own lesser worlds [--according to their personal nature, the books they read, their education, the friendship and authority of those whom they esteem and admire--] and not in the greater or common world." Our understanding is distorted by our upbringing, through the association of our families and close friends.

The Idols of the Market are "formed by the intercourse and association of men with each other."Because of this association, language is often distorted "according to the apprehension of the vulgar.And therefore the ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding."Learned men are often in error in their definitions and explanations because "words plainly force and overrule the understanding, and throw all into confusion, and lead men away into numberless empty controversies and idle fancies." Our understanding is distorted by where we work and who we work with.

The Idols of the Theatre are "various dogmas of philosophies, and also the wrong laws of demonstration."These various dogmas are "entire systems . . . principles and axioms in science, which by tradition, credulity, and negligence have come to be received."The demonstrations and proofs for these systems are like "so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion." 
Our understanding is distorted by the language and orientations of various schools, academies, the sciences and the professions.

Bacon, Francis. Novum Organum. New York: Liberal Arts Press. 1960. (47-50).



Moral Philosophy
Political Philosophy
The Good Old Cause
Normative or Prescriptive Ethics
Metaethics, or Analytic Ethics
British Philosophy vs. Continental Philosophy

Act Utilitarianism
Rule Utilitarianism
“felicific calculus”
High and Low Context Cultures
Anne Hutchinson

Categorical Imperative

Virtue Ethics
“the proper mean”
Moral Self-Cultivation
Five Confucian Cardinal Relationships

G.E.M. Anscombe
“Modern Moral Philosophy”
John Marlin