Skip to main content
×
Home

Against Consequentialist Theories of Virtue and Vice

  • TODD CALDER (a1)
Abstract

Consequentialist theories of virtue and vice, such as the theories of Jeremy Bentham and Julia Driver, characterize virtue and vice in terms of the consequential, or instrumental, properties of these character traits. There are two problems with theories of this sort. First they imply that, under the right circumstances, paradigmatic virtues, such as benevolence, are vices and paradigmatic vices, such as maliciousness, are virtues. This is conceptually problematic. Second, they say nothing about the intrinsic nature of the virtues and vices, which is less than we could hope for from a theory of virtue and vice. Thus, we have reason to reject consequentialist theories in favour of theories that characterize virtue and vice in terms of the intrinsic properties of these character traits. Aristotle and Thomas Hurka have theories this sort.

Copyright
References
Hide All

1 Julia Driver, Uneasy Virtue (Cambridge, 2001), p. 82.

2 Thomas Hurka, Virtue, Vice and Value (Oxford, 2001), pp. 1923.

3 I follow Driver in calling theories that characterize the virtues and vices in terms of their instrumental, or consequential properties, ‘consequentialist theories’ (Driver, Uneasy Virtue, ch. 4). Some people might be tempted to characterize Hurka's theory as a consequentialist theory since he thinks that the value of the virtues and vices depends on the value of objects towards which we have appropriate or inappropriate attitudes. But this does not make his theory a ‘consequentialist theory’ in the sense in which Driver and I are using the term. Hurka's theory is not a consequentialist theory because he characterizes the virtues and vices in terms of their intrinsic properties rather than in terms of their consequential, or instrumental, properties. We might also say that Hurka's theory is an intrinsic theory since he contends that the virtues have intrinsic value and not merely instrumental value. But none of this makes his theory incompatible with consequentialist theories of right action such as utilitarianism. Although Hurka characterizes the virtues and vices non-consequentially, his view is not incompatible with the claim that the right act is the one that best promotes the good. For Hurka virtues and vices are further goods and bads that should be included in our utility calculus when deciding how best to promote the good. See, Hurka, Virtue, Vice and Value, pp. 4–11.

4 Hurka, Virtue, Vice and Value, pp. 4–11.

5 Driver, Uneasy Virtue, p. 68; Peter Railton, ‘Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 13 2 (1984), pp. 134–71.

6 Philippa Foot, Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (Oxford, 1978); Philippa Foot, Natural Goodness (Oxford, 2001); Rosalind Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics (Oxford, 2001).

7 Michael Slote, ‘Driver's Virtues’, Utilitas 16 1 (2004), pp. 2930.

8 Driver, Uneasy Virtue, pp. 55–6, 66–7, 82; Julia Driver, ‘Response to my Critics’, Utilitas 16 1 (2004), pp. 40–1.

9 Jeremy Bentham, The Principles of Morals and Legislation (Amherst, NY, 1988), p. 131.

10 John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (Indianapolis, 1979), pp. 19, 35.

11 Driver, Uneasy Virtue, pp. 74, 82.

12 Foot, Virtues and Vices, pp. 3, 8.

13 Foot, Virtues and Vices, pp. 43–5.

14 Foot, Virtues and Vices, pp. 43–4.

15 Foot, Virtues and Vices, pp. 33–43.

16 Driver, Uneasy Virtue, p. 67.

17 Driver, ‘Response to my Critics’, pp. 40–1.

18 Driver, Uneasy Virtue, p. 82.

19 I do not mean to say here that character traits chosen by virtuous people merely as a means cannot be virtues. They can be virtues, but they need not be. By contrast, although I will not argue for it here, it is probable that character traits chosen by virtuous people for their own sake are necessarily virtues.

20 It might be objected that if I concede that a virtuous person chooses between virtues on the basis of which will lead to the best consequences, then I have conceded that the consequentialist theory of virtue and vice is correct. But this objection is mistaken since by a consequentialist theory of virtue and vice I do not mean a theory that chooses between virtues on the basis of which leads to the best consequences. I mean a theory that characterizes the virtues and vices solely on the basis of the ability of these character traits to promote or detract from the good. Thus, we can consistently hold an intrinsic account of virtue and vice and allow that we should use a consequentialist principle for deciding between virtues. We just cannot consistently hold an intrinsic account and use a consequentialist principle to decide in what virtue consists.

21 Mary Midgley makes a similar point in her book Wickedness: A Philosophical Essay (London, 1984), pp. 3–9, 73–92.

22 There may be a better word for this virtue.

23 Hurka makes this point about malice in Virtue, Vice and Value, pp. 102–4.

24 Driver, Uneasy Virtue, pp. 61–2.

25 Hurka, Virtue, Vice and Value, p. 20.

26 Hurka, Virtue, Vice and Value, pp. 11–17.

27 Hurka, Virtue, Vice and Value, pp. 13, 16, 84.

28 Hurka, Virtue, Vice and Value, pp. 16–17.

29 Hurka, Virtue, Vice and Value, pp. 13, 33.

30 I owe the implausible rigidity objection to an anonymous reviewer for this journal.

31 Hurka, Virtue, Vice and Value, p. 106.

32 Hurka, Virtue, Vice and Value, p. 85.

33 Hurka, Virtue, Vice and Value, p. 85.

34 Driver, Uneasy Virtue, pp. 60, 70.

35 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Martin Ostwald (Upper Saddle River, NJ, 1999), Book II, 1106b35–1107a, p. 43.

36 NE, 1107b9–1107b16, p. 45. See also NE, Book IV, Section 1, 1119b20–1122a15, pp. 83–9.

37 NE, 1107a35–1107b3, p. 45. See also NE, Book III, 1115a7–1117b20, pp. 68–77.

38 NE, Book II, 1105a30–35, p. 39 and Book VI, 1144b15–25, p. 171.

39 Driver, Uneasy Virtue, p. 70.

40 Aristotle, NE, Book I, 1097b22–1098a18, pp. 16–17.

41 NE, 1099a20–2.

42 Driver, Uneasy Virtue, p. 14.

43 For a discussion of this topic see Julia Annas, The Morality of Happiness (New York, 1993).

44 See David Copp and David Sobel, ‘Morality and Virtue: An Assessment of Some Recent Work in Virtue Ethics’, Ethics 114 (April 2004), pp. 530–2.

45 Aristotle, NE, Book I, 1099a32–1099b7, pp. 21–2.

46 NE, 1099a6–12, pp. 20–1.

47 NE, 1099a16–19, p. 21.

48 NE, Book II, 1105a30–5, p. 39; Book II, 1106b35–1107a, p. 43.

49 Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, p. 167.

50 Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, p. 174. See also Copp and Sobel, ‘Morality and Virtue’, pp. 526–31.

51 Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, pp. 172–3, 185. It might be objected that Hursthouse does have a moralized conception of flourishing since she describes flourishing as real happiness or happiness worth having (Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, pp. 9–10). But, I do not think this implies that for Hursthouse virtue is part of the notion of flourishing. Rather it seems that for Hursthouse flourishing is having a satisfying life from one's own point of view. That is what she means by real happiness or happiness worth having. At least this interpretation fits best with the rest of what she says in the book.

52 Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, pp. 173–4. See also Copp and Sobel, ‘Morality and Virtue’, p. 526.

53 Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, pp. 124–5.

54 Driver, Uneasy Virtue, p. 70.

55 Driver, Uneasy Virtue, p. xx.

56 Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, pp. 11, 124–5.

57 Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, p. 128.

58 Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, pp. 133–5.

59 Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, p. 11.

60 Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, p. 167.

61 A similar argument could be made to show that mixed views such as Hursthouse's incorrectly deprive character traits such as malice of their status as vices in worlds where they generally lead to the good. I leave this argument out since Hursthouse herself says little about vice directly.

62 I want to thank Julia Driver, Colin Mcleod, Scott Woodcock, the Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy Research Group at the University of Western Ontario, and an anonymous reviewer for this journal for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Utilitas
  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
  • URL: /core/journals/utilitas
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 2
Total number of PDF views: 71 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 320 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.