Two cheers for virtue: or, might virtue be habit forming?<sup>1</sup>

Peter Railton

in Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 1

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199693269
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191732058 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies In Normative Ethics

Two cheers for virtue: or, might virtue be habit forming?1

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Traditional virtue-oriented approaches to ethics suppose that acquiring relatively stable character traits, such as courage and compassion, is crucial in addressing the question of how to be. However, recent psychological studies cast doubt on the idea that people develop such traits. In light of this pessimism, the paper raises the question: what is left of virtue theory? It argues that much remains once one shifts from a traditional understanding of virtues to one of cognitive/affective “if…then” dispositions that form a person’s character. The central proposal is to understand such dispositions as “habitudes” – habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that are acquired by example and repetition, and that enable one to competently react to varying situations one confronts. The resulting model of ethical comportment represents a psychologically realistic understanding of virtue. Furthermore, this account fits well with what we learn from the field of positive psychology about subjective well-being, thus helping to vindicate eudaimonism.

Keywords: virtue; virtue ethics; character; eudaimonism; well-being; agency; moral psychology; situationism; positive psychology

Chapter.  14471 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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