Ethical Expertise: The Skill Model of Virtue

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10 (2):183-194 (2007)
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Julia Annas is one of the few modern writers on virtue that has attempted to recover the ancient idea that virtues are similar to skills. In doing so, she is arguing for a particular account of virtue, one in which the intellectual structure of virtue is analogous to the intellectual structure of practical skills. The main benefit of this skill model of virtue is that it can ground a plausible account of the moral epistemology of virtue. This benefit, though, is only available to some accounts of virtue. Annas claims that Aristotle rejects this skill model of virtue, and so the model of virtues as a skill that Annas endorses for the modern virtue theory is Socratic. This paper argues that while Aristotle rejects the Socratic model of virtue as a skill, he does not reject the model of virtue as a skill altogether. Annas has mischaracterized Aristotle's position on the skill model, because she has not recognized that Aristotle endorses a different account of the structure of skill than the one put forth by Socrates. In addition, recent research on expertise provides an account of skills very much at odds with the description of skills offered by Annas, but similar to the account endorsed by Aristotle. Contrary to Annas, not only is the skill model of virtue compatible with a neo-Aristotelian account of virtue, but it also appears that basing a skill model of virtue on a Socratic account of virtue is likely to prove unsuccessful.

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Matt Stichter
Washington State University


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