P. i a. A virtuous agent is one who acts virtuously, that is, one who has and exercises the virtues. This subsidiary premise lays bare the fact that virtue theory aims to pro- vide a nontrivial specificationof the virtuous agent via a nontrivial spec- ification of the virtues, which is given in its second premise: i. It should be noted that this premise intentionally allows for the possibility that two virtuous agents, faced with the same choice in the same circumstances, may act differ- ently. For example, one might opt for taking her father off the life-support machine and the other for leaving her father on it. The theory requires that neither agent thinks that what the other does is wrong (see note 4 below), but it explicitly allows that no action is uniquely right in such a case-both are right. It also intentionally allows for the possibility that in some circumstances-those into which no virtuous agent could have got herself- no action is right. I explore this premise at greater length in "Applying Virtue Ethics," forthcoming in afestschrift for Philippa Foot. This content downloaded from 188.8.131.52 on Thu, 29 Aug 2013 15:50:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
226 Philosophy & Public Affairs P. 2. A virtue is a character trait a human being needs to flourish or live well. This premise forges a conceptual link between virtue andflourishing (or living well or eudaimonia). And, just as deontology, in theory, then goes on to argue that each favored rule meets its specification, so virtue ethics, in theory, goes on to argue that each favored character traitmeets its. These are the bare bones of virtue theory. Following are five brief com- ments directed to some misconceived criticisms that should be cleared out of the way. First, the theory does not have a peculiar weakness or problem in vir- tue of the fact that it involves the concept of eudaimonia (a standard criticism being that this concept is hopelessly obscure). Now no virtue theorist will pretend that the concept of human flourishing is an easy one to grasp. I will not even claim here (though I would elsewhere) that it is no more obscure than the concepts of rationality and happiness, since, if our vocabulary were more limited, we might, faute de mieux, call it (human) rational happiness, and therebyreveal that it has at least some of the difficulties of both. But virtue theory has never, so far as I know, been dismissed on the grounds of the comparative obscurity of this central concept; rather, the popular view is that it has a problem with this which deontology and utilitarianism in no way share. This, I think, is clearly false. Both rationality and happiness, as they figure in their respective theories, are rich and difficult concepts-hence all the disputes about the various tests for a rule's being an object of rational choice, and the disputes, dating back to Mill's introduction of the higher and lower pleasures, about what constitutes happiness.