rules can apparently conflict, but also from the fact that, at first blush, it appears that one and the same rule (e.g., preserve life) can yield contrary instructions in a particular case.5 As before, I agree that this is a problem for virtue theory, but deny that it is a problem peculiar to it. Finally, I want to articulate, and reject, what I take to be the major criticism of virtue theory. Perhaps because it is the major criticism, the reflection of a very general sort of disquiet about the theory, it is hard to state clearly-especially for someone who does not accept it-but it goes something like this.6 My interlocutor says: 5. E.g., in Williams' Jim and Pedro case in J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams, Utilitar- ianism: For and Against (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973). 6. Intimations of this criticism constantly come up in discussion; the clearest statement of it I have found is by Onora O'Neill, in her review of Stephen Clark's The Moral Status This content downloaded from 220.127.116.11 on Thu, 29 Aug 2013 15:50:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
230 Philosophy & Public Affairs Virtue theory can't get us anywhere in real moral issues because it's bound to be all assertion and no argument. You admit that the best it can come up with in the way of action-guiding rules are the ones that rely on the virtue and vice concepts, such as "act charitably," "don't act cruelly," and so on; and, as if that weren't bad enough, you admit that these virtue concepts, such as charity, presuppose concepts such as the good, and the worthwhile, and so on. But that means that any virtue theorist who writes about real moral issues must rely on her audience's agreeing with her application of all these concepts, and hence accepting all the premises in which those applicationsare en- shrined. But some other virtue theorist might take different premises about these matters, and come up with very different conclusions, and, within the terms of the theory, there is no way to distinguish be- tween the two. While there is agreement,virtue theorycan repeat con- ventional wisdom, preserve the status quo, but it can't get us any- where in the way that a normative ethical theory is supposed to, namely, by providingrational grounds for acceptance of its practical conclusions. My strategy will be to split this criticism into two: one (the eighth) ad- dressed to the virtue theorist's employment of the virtue and vice con- cepts enshrined in her rules-act charitably, honestly, and so on-and the other (the ninth) addressed to her employment of concepts such as that of the worthwhile. Each objection, I shall maintain, implicitly ap- peals to a certain condition of adequacy on a normative moraltheory, and in each case, I shall claim, the condition of adequacy, once made explicit, is utterly implausible.
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