Notes on McDowell, “Virtue and reason”

Notes on McDowell, “Virtue and reason” - Normative...

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Normative ethics/Merli Notes on McDowell, “Virtue and reason” I. II. Some considerations in favor of “virtue is knowledge.” Knowledge involves getting things right. Kindness as an example: reliably getting it right wrt kindness. The agent’s reason for action is that the situation requires it, that the situation is one calling for kindness, and so on. The agent has a reliable sensitivity to the requirements imposed by a situation. This can be understood as a sort of perceptual capacity. He “sees what to do.” This suggests that knowledge (of this sort) is necessary for the virtue. But is it sufficient? Argument in favor: the considerations requiring kindness exhaust the agent’s reasons for action. If the action needed some other incentive, it would not be a manifestation of the virtue. The sensitivity is sufficient to explain the action. So it alone can be the virtue. Argument for the unity of virtues: the sensitivity issues in right conduct, so it has to deliver requirements that are shaped by all the virtues. So there’s really only one sensitivity/capacity. III. but here’s a reason not to identify virtue with knowledge. A person might perceive the situation in just the same way as the VA but not act. Thus the perception is shared but the action is not, and this means that the virtue must be something beyond the perception: the something that the VA has and the non-VA lacks. Hence V cannot be K. Saying that V=K requires saying that the VA’s perception of the situation cannot be matched by someone without virtue or someone who does not act virtuously. [NOTE: this seems to rule out the continent agent’s acting from the same reasons as the VA, because the continent person has the same knowledge but doesn’t have the virtue.] Response: the agent who does not act virtuously has something else, such as some kind of clouded perception of the situation because of a desire to do otherwise. It’s a mistake to say that one can fail to act on a reason without any additional “clouding” going on.
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This note was uploaded on 04/18/2008 for the course PHI 374 taught by Professor Merli during the Fall '07 term at F & M.

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Notes on McDowell, “Virtue and reason” - Normative...

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