Virtue Ethics and the Interests of Others

Dissertation, The University of Arizona (1999)
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Abstract
In recent decades "virtue ethics" has become an accepted theoretical structure for thinking about normative ethical principles. However, few contemporary virtue ethicists endorse the commitments of the first virtue theorists---the ancient Greeks, who developed their virtue theories within a commitment to eudaimonism. Why? I believe the objections of modern theorists boil down to concerns that eudaimonist theories cannot properly account for two prominent moral requirements on our treatment of others. ;First, we think that the interests and welfare of at least some others ought to give us non-instrumental reason for acting---that is, reason independent of consideration of our own welfare. Second, we think others are entitled to what we might call respect, just in virtue of their being persons. Eudaimonist accounts either cannot account for these intuitions at all, or they give the wrong sort of account. ;My dissertation assesses the resources of eudaimonism to meet these lines of criticism. Chapter 2, 3, and 4 survey the views of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, to discover insights that are important for a successful response. In Chapters 5 and 6, I offer my own account, based on what I call empathic identification. This is the habit or disposition of seeing things, in effect, through the eyes of others. Empathic identification is a process through which the interpersonal transmission of reasons for actions between persons becomes possible. I argue first that our interest in our own eudaimonia justifies us in identifying empathically with others as a general habit or disposition. Second, I argue that empathic identification explains our intuitions about the respect others are due. So empathic identification generates the right sort of explanation of our intuitions about the constraints others and their interests impose upon us after all, and renders eudaimonist virtue ethics a viable form of ethical theory
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