reading: reverence, renewing a forgotten virtue

Q: Does a virtue provide moral rules?

Not exactly. The more virtue we have, the less we will to think about rules. This is helpful, because we sometimes find it hard to feel like following a rule, but it always feels natural to act in accordance with a virtue – if we truly have that virtue. Virtue-talk has been revived in recent years, but it runs against the grain of modern ethics, which is mostly about doing what is right whether you feel like it or not. By contrast, virtue is about cultivating feelings that will lead you in the right way whether you know the rule in a given case or not. Rules are hard to apply and hard to follow. Feelings, on the other hand, are easy to follow and hard to resist. That’s why, from the standpoint of moral eduction, virtue is best.

Laying down rules may give good results in many cases, but we cannot be sure that people who follow rules are doing so for the right reason. If they are not, then we cannot be sure they will do so in future. That is why we should not praise a person’s character merely for following rules. What is the right reason for following a rule? Some thinkers (following Kant) would say that this depends on knowing the rules in a certain way; others (following Aristotle and Plato) would say that it depends on being a certain kind of person – in other words, it depends on having virtue.

— Paul Woodruff, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue


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