Stoic Virtue: A Contemporary Interpretation

Philosophers' Imprint 20 (18):1-20 (2020)
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Abstract

The Stoic understanding of virtue is often taken to be a non-starter. Many of the Stoic claims about virtue – that a virtue requires moral perfection and that all who are not fully virtuous are vicious – are thought to be completely out of step with our commonsense notion of virtue, making the Stoic account more of an historical oddity than a seriously defended view. Despite many voices to the contrary, I will argue that there is a way of making sense of these Stoic claims. Recent work in linguistics has shown that there is a distinction between relative and absolute gradable adjectives, with the absolute variety only applying to perfect exemplars. I will argue that taking virtue terms to be absolute gradable adjectives – and thus that they apply only to those who are fully virtuous – is one way to make sense of the Stoic view. I will also show how interpreting virtue theoretic adjectives as absolute gradable adjectives makes it possible to defend Stoicism against its most common objections, demonstrating how the Stoic account of virtue might once again be a player in the contemporary landscape of virtue theorizing.

Author's Profile

Wes Siscoe
University of Notre Dame

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