Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Virtue, Character, and Moral Responsibility: Against the Monolithic View

Topics: Ethics, Moral Philosophy, Philosophy of action, Theoretical philosophy
Keywords: Character, Explanation, Moral responsibility, Reason, Virtues


A traditional tenet of virtue ethics is that a proper moral assessment of an action needs to be informed by a view of the agent; in particular, a view of their virtues or vices, as exhibited in their action. This picture has been challenged on the grounds that it is revisionary and ill-motivated. The key claim is that we are ordinarily disposed to judge the moral merits of particular actions independently of any view of the character of the agent, and that there is nothing wrong with that practice. In this paper, we identify and criticize a certain view of the nature of character that (we argue) underpins the challenge. We call this a monolithic conception of character. We sketch an alternative, non-monolithic conception, and suggest that when combined with a non-monolithic conception, the traditional tenet can be seen to be neither revisionary nor ill-motivated.

Virtue terms are used in two ways: they are applied both to people and to their actions. Suppose that you love inviting friends over for dinner and serve them delicious delicacies, promptly share your research insights with your colleagues, and typically think the best of everyone. In brief, you are a generous person, someone who sees the possibility of sharing as a good reason to do so. You display the property of being generous. Yet, generous is also what you do. Your hosting a sumptuous dinner or sharing your insights were generous actions. As Thomas Hurka puts it, “moral thought uses the concepts of virtue and vice at two different levels”, a “global” and…


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