The Demandingness of Virtue

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How demanding is the virtuous life? Can virtue exist alongside hints of vice? Is it possible to be virtuous within a vicious society? A line of thinking running through Diogenes and the Stoics is that even a hint of corruption is inimical to virtue, that participating in a vicious society makes it impossible for a person to be virtuous. One response to this difficulty is to claim that virtue is a threshold concept, that context sets a threshold for what is considered virtuous. On this way of thinking, what counts as virtuous in one society may be more demanding than what passes for virtuous in another. This response seems plausible when considering that virtue-theoretic terms like `honest' are gradable adjectives. Many gradable adjectives, like `long' and `expensive,' have contextual thresholds that shift depending on the situation, and so it is tenable that virtue-theoretic adjectives might function with contextual thresholds as well. A major difficulty for this response, however, is that many virtue terms are absolute gradable adjectives, a variety of gradable adjectives that do not require a contextual threshold. These absolute gradable adjectives instead draw their truth conditions from their maximal degree, suggesting that Diogenes and the Stoics were correct to think that a number of the virtues are incompatible with even a small degree of vice.
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