Self-Knowledge and the Development of Virtue

In Noell Birondo & S. Stewart Braun (eds.), Virtue's Reasons: New Essays on Virtue, Character, and Reasons. New York: Routledge. pp. 107-125 (2017)
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Persons interested in developing virtue will find attending to, and attempting to act on, the right reason for action a rich resource for developing virtue. In this paper I consider the role of self-knowledge in intentional moral development. I begin by making a general case that because improving one’s moral character requires intimate knowledge of its components and their relation to right reason, the aim of developing virtue typically requires the development of self-knowledge. I next turn to Kant’s ethics for an account which explains the reflexivity involved in moral reasoning generally, and the significance of self-knowledge to morality. I then take up Robert Audi’s interesting notion of the harnessing and unharnessing of reasons as a potential way of strengthening the agent’s connection to right reason, and his concerns about our limited and indirect resources for becoming virtuous. I argue that harnessing and unharnessing are not plausibly characterized as activities to be accomplished by an exertion of will, rather they involve a dynamic, cognitive, reflective attempt to gain self-knowledge and align oneself with one’s moral reasons for action.

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Emer O'Hagan
University of Saskatchewan


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