Mendelssohn and Kant on Virtue as a Skill

In Ellen Fridland & Carlotta Pavese (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Skill and Expertise. Routledge. pp. 88-99 (2020)
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Abstract
The idea that virtue can be profitably conceived as a certain sort of skill has a long history. My aim is to examine a neglected episode in this history — one that focuses on the pivotal role that Moses Mendelssohn played in rehabilitating the skill model of virtue for the German rationalist tradition, and Immanuel Kant’s subsequent, yet significantly qualified, endorsement of the idea. Mendelssohn celebrates a certain automatism in the execution of skill, and takes this feature to be instrumental in meeting an objection against perfectionist, agent-based ethics: namely, that a virtuous person would seem to act for the sake of realising his own perfection in everything that he does, thereby taking a morally inappropriate interest in his own character. Kant rejects the automatism featured in Mendelssohn’s account, on grounds that it would make virtue mindless and unreflective. But he does not reject the skill model of virtue wholesale. Rather, he calls for considering how reflection can be embedded in the expression of certain kinds of skill, enabling him to endorse, and arguably adopt, the model on his own terms.
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