Virtues and vices – between ethics and epistemology

Belgrade: Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade (2023)
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The statement everyone wants to live a fulfilled and happy life may seem simple, self-evident, and even trivial at first glance. However, upon closer philosophical analysis, can we unequivocally assert that people are truly focused on well-being? Assuming they are, the question becomes: what guidelines should be followed and how should one behave in order to achieve true well-being and attain their goals? One popular viewpoint is that cultivating moral virtues and personal qualities is essential for a life of "true" well-being, rather than mere pleasure. This perspective is not particularly original, as it was advocated quite clearly by Aristotle. However, we must ask: what guarantees that virtue will lead to well-being? Can we really ignore the common-sense doubt that virtue (and moral life), as Kant points out, may not be rewarded with any form of well-being or "happiness" in the broadest sense during our earthly existence? How might we address this doubt? If questions about the relationship between happiness and virtue have been asked since ancient times, why don't we have definitive answers yet? Perhaps there is something wrong with the questions themselves, as is often the case in philosophy. Views on this relationship have influenced the modification of theories that philosophers have put forth in order to provide satisfactory answers. One such theory is the renewed and modernized ethics of virtue, which places the greatest emphasis on building an individual's moral character, assuming that Aristotelian character virtues such as courage, honesty, generosity, prudence, self-control, and compassion will enable us to lead a happy and fulfilling life. "Virtues" refer to a wide range of "excellences" or activities that individuals can use to perfect themselves. For example, an ordinary person might accept that courage can make their life more fulfilling, but it's important to recognize that virtues cannot be acquired overnight. Furthermore, many people believe that virtues are innate qualities that one either possesses or lacks. In contrast, ethics of virtue provides guidance and instructions for developing virtues over extended periods of time, as well as for continuously "practicing" the development of moral characteristics that will make us better individuals. The central and most significant concept in ethics of virtue is the golden mean, which can be interpreted in various ways. Essentially, ethics of virtue offers a path to a life filled with pleasure, harmony, and virtuous action. However, this collection of essays, Virtues and Vices: Between Ethics and Epistemology, is not exclusively concerned with virtues or ethics. Knowledge, as well as the processes of belief formation and justification of those beliefs, are also essential to ethics of virtue. Going back to the systematic Greek philosopher and his teacher, we can emphasize that virtues and knowledge are inseparable. Without the epistemology of virtues, even a thematic collection like this one would be incomplete. The Epistemology of Virtue is a relatively new branch of philosophy that has emerged as a response to questions about the value-neutrality of science. For a long time, the separation of values and scientific inquiry has been viewed as the correct methodological approach. However, it is clear that every scientist is also a human being with their own virtues and flaws. It is naive to assume that a scientist can leave their values and moral qualities outside the laboratory and treat their colleagues in the team differently than they would treat other people in their everyday life. Taking this into account, we can notice that Epistemology of Virtue is a theory that examines the influence of virtues on the processes of acquiring knowledge. Epistemic virtues refer to qualities that enable individuals to acquire knowledge and make reliable judgments. These virtues include traits such as openness to diverse testimonies and arguments, critical thinking, a tendency to question one's own assumptions, and the ability to identify errors in one's own thought processes. Just like in virtue ethics, the Epistemology of Virtue raises the question of how we can cultivate the necessary virtues and how these virtues can have a positive impact on both individuals and society. The field also explores how epistemic virtues can be put into practice, such as in educational settings, scientific research, and various social activities. Finally, we turn to a topic that is often overlooked in philosophy - human flaws. While ethics typically views flaws as the opposite of virtues, requiring correction both individually and socially, the Epistemology of Virtue questions what happens when flaws occur in knowledge-related qualities. Do these flaws also need to be eliminated, or are they an inherent part of the process of acquiring knowledge and making judgments? At first glance, prejudices, stereotypes, dogmatism, conformism, closed-mindedness towards arguments and evidence, as well as uncritical acceptance of authority, can all hinder our ability to acquire knowledge. Epistemologists view these qualities as vices, rather than flaws like ethicists do. The Epistemology of Vices is the newest of the three branches of philosophy covered in this thematic collection, and it examines the ways in which false and untrue beliefs develop and persist in society. This area of study seeks to answer questions about how people form delusions and whether it is possible to overcome them. On the other hand, the Epistemology of Virtue is like the "older brother" that supervises these vices. It contributes to the investigation and overcoming of vices by developing virtues that enable individuals to more accurately assess the truthfulness of their beliefs. However, even though vices can have a destructive impact on knowledge acquisition, the question remains: are vices always detrimental in every context? Conversely, can virtues be detrimental? For example, does a virtue like solidarity sometimes hinder the efficient formation of true beliefs in time-sensitive situations such as finding a vaccine to combat a virus pandemic? Can vices be useful? Can stubbornness and uncooperativeness sometimes help a research team by allowing two sides to reach the same goal through different paths? Within this collection, some of these questions will receive answers, some of which may confirm existing impressions, while others may surprise readers. The thematic collection, Virtues and Vices: Between Ethics and Epistemology, consists of four interesting chapters and 21 papers that cover the selected topic through the prism of philosophical disciplines such as ethics, epistemology, the history of philosophy, philosophy of mind, political philosophy, and philosophy of science. In this introduction, we will not discuss the contents of the articles so as not to disrupt the intended integral approach to reading the collection. A significant feature of this collection is the continuity that extends from one paper to another, from topic to topic, and from problem to problem. Lastly, we would like to express our gratitude to the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Belgrade for their support in realizing this collection, as well as to our colleagues from the Department and Institute of Philosophy who have made this collection a relevant and significant achievement with their contributions. We are also thankful to the reviewers of the collection as a whole, as well as to the referees of individual articles, who have provided us with detailed comments and remarks that have made this collection clearer and more comprehensive. We owe a special thanks to our colleagues from Zagreb, Rijeka, and Maribor, whose exceptional papers have contributed to making this collection an unabashed international contribution to debates about the ethics and epistemology of virtues and vices.

Author's Profile

Nenad Cekić
University of Belgrade


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