Socrates asked "How then should we live?" and so welcomed virtue into the philosophical arena. In this page we discuss a number of philosophical questions about virtue, how some thinkers through the ages have dealt with them, and what a Dooyeweerdian approach might be. We see that Dooyeweerd's approach can affirm, or at least treat as meaningful, much of what has been said.
This page has has only just been started, having been inspired by a BBC Radio 4 broadcast in which a number of philosophers discussed virtue. It is therefore highly incomplete. Please contact me with additional ideas, if you wish. In particular, there is little from Aquinas, Ambrose, Augustine etc. and other mediaeval thinkers, nothing from the East, and nothing post-modern.
Kant rigidly separated this Ought question from the Is question.
Socrates suggested there were four basic virtues: prudence, justice, courage and wisdom, of which wisdom is the cardinal one from which all the others flow. The Christian thinkers added ====.
- Dooyeweerd: Ought and Is are combined, coming both from one starting point in the aspects.
The early Utilitarians suggested that virtue is what produces net total of pleasure compared with pain. But Wittgenstein, who was underwent nervous breakdown and suicide attempts, at the end of his life said "Tell them I have had a wonderful life."
- Dooyeweerd: To Dooyeweerd, virtue would be the full-hearted following of the norms of each aspect. Therefore there are two parts to his answer. One is what we have called the Shalom Hypothesis, that we deal with below. The other is that each aspect, especially each normative aspect, provides a distinct virtue or set of virtues.
- Physical aspect, virtue = e.g. physical stability in face of varying conditions
- Biotic aspect, virtue = vitality, health, growth
- Sensitive aspect, virtue = pleasure
- Analytical aspect, virtue = distinction, logic
- Formative aspect, virtue = creativity, skill, planning, progression
- Lingual aspect, virtue = clear, honest meaning that can be communicated, truthfulness
- Social aspect, virtue = friendship, politeness
- Economic aspect, virtue = prudence, frugality, carefulness
- Aesthetic aspect, virtue = harmony, being a good example of a human being (or anything else)
- Juridical aspect, virtue = justice, exercising responsibility, giving respect
- Ethical aspect, virtue = sacrifice, self-giving, true generosity, the opposite of selfishness
- Pistic aspect, virtue = loyalty, commitment, worship, right vision.
Kant tried to ground it in reason with his Categorical Imperative: act in the way any rational person would act if in the same situation. He was forced to this by his division between Nature and Freedom, and the positing of the noumenal self, that can never be known, but which is ultimately free and therefore must choose to act.
- Dooyeweerd: Feeling is one aspectual virtue, but only one. However, since the aspects cohere, we cannot have the full pleasure if we are being anti-virtuous with regard to any other aspect.
Socrates held that wisdom was the founding virtue, from which all others arose, and the Book of Proverbs in the Bible would agree with this. The Apostle Paul made the famous statement that there are three things that 'remain' (eternally) - faith, hope and love - and that the greatest of these is love. By love he meant self-giving love (Greek
- Dooyeweerd: Because the aspects are not in opposition to each other, and each echoes the others, and especially since there is an echo of reason within all aspects, then every aspectual virtue is 'reasonable'. None are against reason as such. There might be occasions where it is virtuous to go against the demands of an absolutized reason, and then the virtuous option appears to be against reason. But in fact it is not truly against reason, only not able to be explained by reason alone.
agape) rather than friendship (
philio) or erotic love (
eros). Hume classified virtues into natural and artificial. Natural virtues are those that seem built into human nature, such as love of children, sympathy, pity, while artificial virtues are artifacts of a social life, such as respect for promises or property. He held that unselfishness is the highest virtue. Kant held that all virtue is based strictly on reason, by his Categorical Imperative (see below). Hobbes founded all virtue in self-interest, and Darwin made that a specific kind of self-interest.
In 1958 Elizabeth Anscombe ==== brought virtue back into philosophical circles by rueing the fact that philosophical treatment of virtue had reduced to mere action, and she suggested that what a person is also has a bearing on virtue. It has been said "It is better to be Socrates satisfied than a fool satisfied." Kant, on the other hand, held that it is when we act in spite of how we might want to act - that is out of some sense of duty, and when we overcome our innate desires - that we are truly virtuous.
- Dooyeweerd: We can see many of the founding virtues as defined by certain aspects, especially the later ones. The ethical aspect of self-giving love seems to be an all-time favourite - which is perhaps why Dooyeweerd's rather misleading name for it of 'ethical' or 'moral' may be appropriate. Dooyeweerd would however resist trying to hold one up as the foundation from which all the others arise, since no aspect (and hence no virtue) can be reduced to any others. Wisdom, though, which can be seen as a multi-aspectual notion akin to shalom, the positive response to all aspects in harmony. We can see many of the suggested classifications of virtues in terms of drawing a line in the aspectual sequence. Paul's faith, hope and love relate to the last two aspects. Hume's artificial virtues, with their social dimension, would be those of the social and post-social aspect. Self-interest must be treated in a different manner. If it is simply selfishness or self-seeking then that is an anti-virtue in the ethical aspect, and no more need be said. But utilitarian self-interest can mean something very different, concerned with the outworkings and repercussions of virtuous activity. The Shalom Hypothesis would suggest that if we behave or live fully virtuously in all aspects then, as a result, both we ourselves and all others (human and non-human) will gain maximum benefit. So even the utilitarian notion of self-interest can be linked to a Dooyeweerdian approach. But where Dooyeweerd would criticise it is when it sinks into selfishness, and when the end completely obscures the means. For example, from a Dooyeweerdian perspective, Marshall  argues that in politics, we should seek 'obedience' to aspectual norms rather than goals. This is the crux of the Dooyeweerdian approach to virtue: free, obedient response to norms of the aspects, which then has shalomic repercussions in all of life.
==== said yes: a person who is deficient in one is deficient. Aristotle said that if you have one you have them all. For example, if you go around giving out money but when in a tight situation you lack the courage to do so, then you cannot be said to be truly generous if you lack courage.
- Dooyeweerd: The ethical aspect of self-giving suggests that it is often good to deny oneself, and that can explain Kant's approach. However, at a deeper level Dooyeweerd would disagree with Kant. Since Dooyeweerd integrates Ought and Is, which Kant separated from each other, what we are and what we do come from the same root, the aspects and their laws. We cannot be one thing and do another. This links strongly to the Christian idea of the wrongness of hypocrisy, and the Hebraic importance of the renewed heart ("I will write my laws in your heart", God speaking via Jeremiah (31:31-34) in the Bible). What we truly are - or, rather, have become - is what we truly do. The Dooyeweerdian notion of aspects gives a philosophical underpinning to this because existence (both static being and dynamic becoming) emerges from the very aspects from which also emerges the norms that define virtues. (Dooyeweerd's radical ideas on how existence emerges from aspects are discussed in section B9.)
Aristotle held that there is a golden mean. For example, courage is neither cowardice nor foolhardiness, but somewhere in between the two. Virtue is a compromise.
- Dooyeweerd: The Shalom Hypothesis says that we 'should' act or live in line with all the norms of all the aspects, and that this will yield the maximum well-being.
- Dooyeweerd: Cowardice would be seen as going against the norms of the aspect that defines courage, while foolhardiness would be seen as elevating and absolutizing the aspect. Both are wrong. But Aristotle is wrong to see the three things as on a spectrum and suggest a mean, because the ways cowardice and foolhardiness are wrong is radically different. The virtue, in any given aspect, is therefore not a compromise but the complete response to the promises of that aspect. Moreover, the Shalomic virtue, in which all aspects are combined, is also not a compromise since (as we have argued elsewhere B4.5.2) the aspects are not in opposition with each other.
This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments would be welcome.
Compiled by Andrew Basden. You may use this material subject to conditions.
Number of visitors to these pages: . Written on the Amiga and Protext.
Created: 28 February 2002
Last updated: 21 November 2005 unets.