Hostname: page-component-7d8f8d645b-2q4x6 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-05-28T23:04:25.978Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Virtue and Knowledge

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2016


In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle distinguishes fairly sharply between the practical deliberation of moral virtue and the epistemic reflection of theoretical or truth-focused enquiry. However, drawing on insights from Plato and Iris Murdoch, the present paper seeks a more robust epistemic foundation for virtuous deliberation as primarily grounded in clear or correct perception of the world and human association, character and conduct. While such perception may not be sufficient for moral virtue, it is here argued that it is necessary. Murdoch's view that literature may afford especially effective correction of moral misperception is also supported by appeal to literary examples.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 For some argument in this vein by the present writer, see Carr, David, ‘The Logic of Knowing How and Ability’, Mind 88 (1979), 394409CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Knowledge in Practice’, American Philosophical Quarterly 18 (1981), 5361Google ScholarPubMed; Theory and Practice: Some Analogous Concepts and their Disanalogies’, Metaphilosophy 1–2 (1982), 228239Google Scholar.

2 See especially: Plato, Gorgias and Republic, in E. Hamilton and H. Cairns (eds), Plato: The Collected Dialogues (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1961).

3 Such birth is commonly traced to G. E. M. Anscombe, 1958 paper ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’, reprinted in G.E.M. Anscombe, The Collected Philosophical Papers of G.E.M. Anscombe: Volume III Ethics, Religion and Politics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981).

4 G. E. M.  Anscombe, Intention (Oxford: Basil Blackewell, 1959), 58.

5 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, in R. McKeon (ed.) The Basic Works of Aristotle (New York: Random House, 1941), book 2, part 1.

6 For a notable example, see Julia Annas, Intelligent Virtue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

7 Op. cit., note 5, book 6, section 4.

8 Carr, David, ‘Virtue, Mixed Emotion and Moral Ambivalence, Philosophy 84 (2009), 3146CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Op. cit., note 5, book 6, section 5.

10 Op. cit., note 5, book 7, section 3.

11 John McDowell, ‘Virtue and Reason, in R. Crisp and M. Slote (eds), Virtue Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

12 See, for example, essays by Charles Taylor, Martha Nussbaum and others in M. Antonaccio and W. Schweiker, (eds) Iris Murdoch and the Search for Human Goodness (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

13 Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of the Good (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970).

14 Iris Murdoch, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (London: Vintage Classics, 2003).

15 Op. cit., note 13, page 52.

16 Op. cit., note 13, chapter 1.

17 Plato, The Laws, in E. Hamilton and H. Cairns (eds.), Plato: The Collected Dialogues (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1961), book 5, 731d – 732a, page 1318.

18 Carr, David, The Primacy of Virtues in Ethical Theory’: Part 1, Cogito 9 (1995), 238244CrossRefGoogle Scholar; After Kohlberg: Some Implications of an Ethics of Virtue for the Theory and Practice of Moral Education’, Studies in Philosophy and Education 15 (1996), 353370CrossRefGoogle Scholar; see also Kristjan Kristjansson, Virtues and Vices in Positive Psychology: A Philosophical Critique (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

19 P. T. Geach, The Virtues (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1977), 17.

20 See Carr, David, ‘Spiritual, Moral and Heroic Virtue: Aristotelian Character in the Arthurian and Grail Narratives’, Journal of Beliefs and Values: Studies in Religion & Education 24 (2003), 1526CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21 Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur (London: Omega Books, 1986), book xv, chapters v and vi.

22 Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1989).

23 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, translated by B. Foxley (London: Dent, 1974).

24 Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason (London, Macmillan, 1968), 94.

25 Aristotle, Poetics. in R. McKeon (Ed.) The Basic Works of Aristotle, New York: Random House, 1941).

26 An earlier version of this paper was presented at a conference on ‘Virtue and Cognition’ at the University of Gdansk, Poland in October 2015. I am grateful to the conference organiser Natasza Szutta and to conference participants – especially fellow keynotes Robert Audi, Dan Russell and Gopal Sreenivasan – for helpful comments on that occasion.