Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Two different ways of non-instrumentally pursuing a good

Suppose Alice is blind to the intrinsic value of friendship and Bob can see the intrinsic value of friendship. Bob then told Alice that friendship is intrinsically valuable. Alice justifiedly trusts Bob in moral matters, and so Alice concludes that friendship has intrinsic value, even though she can’t “see” it. Alice and Bob then both pursue friendship for its own sake.

But there is a difference: Bob pursues friendship because of the particular ineffable “thick” kind of value that friendship has. Alice doesn’t know what “thick” kind of value friendship has, but on the basis of Bob’s testimony, she knows that it has some such value or other, and that it is a great and significant value. As long as Alice knows what kinds of actions friendship requires, she can pursue friendship without that knowledge, though it’s probably more difficult for her, perhaps in the way that it is more difficult for a tone-deaf person to play the piano, though in practice the tone-deaf person could learn what kinds of finger movements result in aesthetically valuable music without grasping that aesthetic value.

The Aristotelian tradition makes the grasp of the particular thick kind of value involved in a virtuous activity be a part of the full possession of that virtue. On that view, Alice cannot have the full virtue of friendship. There is something she is missing out on, just as the tone-deaf pianist is missing out on something. But she is not, I think, less praiseworthy than Bob. In fact Alice’s pursuit of friendship involves the exercise of a virtue which Bob’s does not: the virtue of faith, as exhibited in Alice’s trust in Bob’s testimony about the value of friendship.

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