Monday, August 17, 2020

An important use for virtue

It’s obvious that virtues are morally instrumentally useful: possessing them makes it more probable that one will act morally well. Many of my friends think virtues are much more important than that.

Here is one thing that has occurred to me along those lines. Pretty much any action can be morally ruined by a bad intention. But in some specific cases, an action will be ruined by the lack of a specific kind of reason, intention or end. Here are some potential examples, not all of which will be plausible to everyone (the first two reasons should be plausible to everyone; the remaining ones will have narrower appeal):

  • The wrongness of BS and lying shows that it is (at least normally) wrong to make an assertion if the (believed) truth of the content is not among the reasons for making it.

  • It is wrong to intentionally kill someone except for the sake of a very small number of clearly delineated reasons (justice, defense of the innocent, etc.)

  • Since we are to love God with all our hearts, every action should be done at least in part for the sake of God.

  • If a married couple engages in sexual union for reasons that do not include their being married to each other, then their act is internally too much like an act of fornication.

  • It is sacrilegious to attend Mass without doing so at least in part for some religious reason.

But practically speaking, it is hard to include an explicit intention each time one engages in an act of a certain type, especially if the act is moderately frequent (as assertion is, and as killing in wartime can be).

Here virtue can come in: an act’s flowing from a virtue allows the act to inherit the intentions and reasons that are attached to the virtue, and virtue is a habit, so this mechanism is perfectly suited to attaching the right intention to each act of a given type.

1 comment:

Alexander R Pruss said...

A structural case: it may be that every act should be done with the intention of doing something permissible.