Monday, September 13, 2021

Virtue ethics and peer disagreement

Aristotelian ethics is committed to the claim that the virtuous person knows what actions and habits are virtuous and is justified in holding on to that knowledge, and indeed should hold on to it. There is a deep stability to virtue. This means that an Aristotelian virtuous person ought not adopt a conciliationist response to those who disagree as to what is virtuous, suspending judgment over the disagreed-upon items.

Indeed, one imagines that Aristotle’s virtuous person could say of those who disagree: “They are not virtuous, and hence do not see the truth about moral matters.” Aristotle’s virtuous person would reject the idea that someone who disagrees with them about virtue could be an epistemic peer. Virtuous habits give epistemic access to moral (and not only moral) truth.

Of course, the disagreer may think themselves virtuous as well, and may think the same thing about the virtuous person as the virtuous person thinks about them. But that does not shake the Aristotelian virtuous person.

This means that if Aristotelian virtue ethics is correct, there is a clear thing that a Christian can say about religious disagreement. The Christian thinks faith is a virtue, albeit an infused rather than natural one. As such, faith gives epistemic access, and someone lacking faith is simply not an epistemic peer, since they lack a source of truth. The fact that a person lacking faith thinks they have the virtue of faith should not move the person who actually has the virtue.

Of course, one might turn all this around and use it as an argument against virtue ethics. But I think Aristotle’s picture seems exactly correct as to the kind of firmness of moral knowledge that the virtuous person exhibits, the kind of spine that lets them say, without pride or vanity, to vast numbers of others that they are simply wrong.

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