Virtue Ethics, Narrative, and Revisionary Accounts of Rightness

In Joseph Ulatowski & Liezl Van Zyl (eds.), Virtue, Narrative, and Self: Explorations of Character in the Philosophy of Mind and Action. New York, NY, USA: pp. 91-116 (2021)
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In response to prominent criticisms of virtue ethical accounts of right action, Daniel Russell has argued that these criticisms are misguided insofar as they rest on an incorrect understanding of what virtue ethicists mean by ‘right action’, drawing on Rosalind Hursthouse’s influential account of the term. Liezl van Zyl has explored, though not fully-endorsed, a similar approach. The response holds that virtue ethicists do not embrace a strong connection between (i) right action and (ii) what any given agent ought to do in a given set of circumstances. Rather, ‘right action’ is a matter of action assessment, and indicates that a given action is morally excellent and praiseworthy. More generally, the proposed account of rightness emphasizes both (i) an agent’s past and how she came to be in certain circumstances - is it a result of her own vice or wrong actions? and (ii) the agent’s own future happiness and well-being - will an action be so terrible that her life is marred and ruined? The narrative structure of an agent’s life thus plays a significant role in determining whether an action is right. This revisionary conception of right action is the focus of the current chapter.

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Jason Kawall
Colgate University


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