Anda di halaman 1dari 3

6.

VIRTUE AND THE UNITY OF VIRTUE

Question:
Does the fully successful exercise of one virtue depend upon other aspects of the
person’s charachter? Can a virtue develop independently of whether the person has
other virtues?

First of all, let’s go back to how the virtue develops.

a) We can easily recognize the same virtue in utterly different contexts, even without
understanding much about it, because of an inner side of it which can be grasped in
entirely different activities. That’s because virtue is not a routine habit linked only to
the original context where it’s learned.

b) We can’t teach the virtues in isolation, since they can’t be learnt that way. Example:
generosity. This means that virtue are not mutually independent dispositions in a
person’s life; on the contrary, they “reciprocate”: ARISTOTLE “reciprocity of the
virtues” (if you have one virtue you’ll have all? the others) called “unity of
virtue” (all virtues are really practical reasoning exercised in different circumstances) in
contemporary discussion. ARISTOTLE claims that we can separate only the
natural virtues (natural endowments, traits we have “by nature” that need to be
formed and educated in an intelligent way for them to develop as virtue), not the
real virtues, because for having even one proper virtue you need (excellent) practical
intelligence, but once you have this you have all the virtues. Practical intelligence is
unified over the person’s life. If we accept this, we would accept the unity of virtues,
but we are afraid of this conclusion. He doesn’t tell us why we should accept it, he
just assumes the unacceptability of the alternative, which would be that each virtue
had its own limited practical intelligence. Help: Skill analogy. The practical
intelligence involved in one virtue integrates and unifies all the relevant aspects from
the start, rather than developing on separate tracks and then trying to tie the results
together (e.g. a pianist does not develop one skill for fingering and another separate
skill for tempo, only subsequently wondering how to integrate te results together).

Claim: to fully possess even one virtue you need to have them all. This looks excessive,
far-fetched and counterfactual; it’s better to say that virtues tend to cluster, but these
clusters can remain relatively isolated in the person. Let’s think about the
unacceptability of two alternatives:

1) Within the same person we have even two or three practical intelligences within
distinct clusters of virtues.
Of course the way we develop in one area of our lives can have an impact on the way
we develop in other parts (e.g. to be compassionate and to be courageous).

2) Virtues are linked by practical intelligence developing holistically, and rendering


them mutually dependent.
We would just have different practical intelligences within each virtue cluster, rather
than different practical intelligences within single virtues. Instead of producing an
integrated view of the values in a person’s life as a whole, this produces a person who
feels stuck with conflicting values, and with no obvious resources available for dealing
with the situation.
Objection 1: Unity of virtue makes virtue too ideal, both because of a too high standard
and a too low standard of virtue.
Answer: We just need to be careful when we judge.

Objection 2: Unity of virtue lead us to think of ourselves and others in terms of overall
character, dividing the world up into the Good and the Bad. If I think I’m on the good
side, I’ll reject who is not without trying to understand the complexity of his character;
if I think I’m on the bad side it’s even worse, because I’ll refuse to see anything good in
myself.
Answer: This objection works only if we conflate the ideal of the unity of virtue with the
actual one. Real people display a mixture of virtue, vice and mediocrity. If we bearing
this in mind, we’ll avoid overall judgement when we think of actual people.

Objection 3: How can the virtues be so unified by practical intelligence, when different
people lead different ways of life and need to exercise different virtues?
Unity of virtue leads us to two dilemmas:

a) if we say that nobody can be fully virtuous unless they can exercise all the virtues,
we would seem committed to the absurd conclusion that to live a fully virtuous life
you will have to live many different kinds of life; if we add that exercising virtue will
probably require specialized knowledge, it would seem that the fully virtuous person
has to be omni-competent (a doctor, plumber, computer expert, etc.), which is even
more absurd

b) if we don’t say that, we have to admit that all the virtues can be exercised in a single
kind of life. This looks implausibly narrow and so untenable.

Distinction: the circumstances of a life are the factor whose existence in your life are not
under your control (age, gender, height, nationality, language, etc.); the living of a life is the
way you deal with the circumstances of your life.
Virtues are part of the way we live our lives, not of the circumstances of our lives; they
are always exercised within the circumstances of a given life (but they are not part of
them, like an Aristotelian natural virtue might be), which means that, since there are
many different ways of life, there will be many ways of living these ways of life
virtuously. Virtues need to be unified in ways appropriate to each life; there is no such
thing as being virtuous in a way which will be appropriate to all kinds of lives, or one
ideal balance of virtues such as courage and patience that could be got right once and
for all for everybody. Practical intelligence gets things right in very diverse
circumstances.
Which virtue will receive fuller expression will depend also upon our decision to live a
good life.

How can I say that some traits are virtues and others are not? Because they pass the
“filter” test of fitting in to the virtues thought as unified by the holistic development of
practical wisdom.
But how can I distinguish generosity from benevolence? At the moment, we don’t have a
good answer. Anyway, it doesn’t matter for the unity of virtue, since virtues which are
distinct when we start to learn them turn out to be related, because they all involve the
same practical intelligence, which operates over life as a whole, not in different ways in
separate compartments of life.