Ramsifying Virtue Theory

In Current Controversies in Virtue Theory. Routledge. pp. 123-35 (2015)
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In his contribution, Mark Alfano lays out a new (to virtue theory) naturalistic way of determining what the virtues are, what it would take for them to be realized, and what it would take for them to be at least possible. This method is derived in large part from David Lewis’s development of Frank Ramsey’s method of implicit definition. The basic idea is to define a set of terms not individually but in tandem. This is accomplished by assembling all and only the common sense platitudes that involve them (e.g., typically, people want to be virtuous), conjoining those platitudes, and replacing the terms in question by existentially quantified variables. If the resulting sentence is satisfied, then whatever satisfies are the virtues. If it isn’t satisfied, there are a couple of options. First, one could just admit defeat by saying that people can’t be virtuous. More plausibly, one could weaken the conjunction by dropping a small number of the platitudes from it (and potentially adding some others). Alfano suggests that the most attractive way to do this is by dropping the platitudes that deal with cross-situational consistency and replacing them with platitudes that involve social construction: basically, people are virtuous (when they are) at least in part because other people signal their expectations of virtuous conduct, which induces virtuous conduct, which in turn induces further signals of expected virtuous conduct, and so on.

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Mark Alfano
Macquarie University


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