On Virtue

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.

Philosophical question: How does Virtue Fit into Philosophy?

Kant rigidly separated this Ought question from the Is question.

Philosophical question: What are the Virtues, and how are they Related?

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 ====.

Sub-Question: How does virtue relate to feeling, such as pleasure and pain?

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."

Sub-Question: How does virtue relate to reason?

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.

Philosophical question: Which Virtues are more Important (and why)? On what Grounds may we Classify them?

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 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.

Philosphical Question: Is Virtue what we Do or what we Are?

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.

Philosophical Question: Should we have (or aim to have) All the Virtues?

==== 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.

Philosophical Question: Can we be too Virtuous?

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.
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: Counter. Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Created: 28 February 2002 Last updated: 21 November 2005 unets.