Imaginative Moral Development

Journal of Value Inquiry 51 (2):251-262 (2017)
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The picture of moral development defended by followers of Aristotle takes moral cultivation to be like playing a harp; one gets to be good by actually spending time playing a real instrument. On this view, we cultivate a virtue by doing the actions associated with that virtue. I argue that this picture is inadequate and must be supplemented by imaginative techniques. One can, and sometimes must, cultivate virtue without actually performing the associated actions. Drawing on strands in Buddhist philosophy, I explain several methods of moral development that rely on imagination and visualization rather than overt action. These techniques are essential in cases where cultivating virtue the way one practices the harp is impossible. In particular, I focus on single-event virtues, first-time virtuous acts, and morally dangerous situations.
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