Kantian Virtue and “Virtue Ethics”

Thomas E. Hill Jr.

in Virtue, Rules, and Justice

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199692002
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741241 | DOI:
Kantian Virtue and “Virtue Ethics”

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This chapter explores similarities and differences between Kant’s ideas about moral virtue and various ideas associated with virtue ethics. It identifies some misconceptions of Kant’s ethics and highlights features that may be overlooked. As in the previous chapter, Kant’s distinctive understanding of virtue as moral strength is highlighted. Finally the chapter comments on the apparent differences between Kant’s theory and some views associated with “virtue ethics” regarding (A) the need for moral rules, (B) sensitivity to particular contexts, (C) morally good motivation, and (D) the standard for right action. Kant treats virtue as a kind of strength of the will to do what is right. Virtue is more than having good intentions, and we need to develop it over time. We have a duty to try to develop virtue, but we are also responsible if, lacking sufficient virtue, we do wrong through weakness of will. We have particular virtues insofar as our will to fulfill various specific duties is strong, but it is not the implications of Kant’s position for particular virtues (and vices) of character that is most interesting. Apart from that, Kant’s ideas raise questions about moral responsibility and strength and weakness of will that present special problems of understanding, even though (arguably) in some respects Kant’s ideas reflect familiar common sense views.

Keywords: Kant; virtue; virtue ethics; weakness of will; moral rules; moral motivation

Chapter.  13207 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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