I went to University today and am here to tell you all about my Philosophy Monday thoughts.
From my notes:
"It's warm and I'm feeling sleepy."
That's all I had written down.
Happening around me was a discussion of an article which seemed to be trying to rescue Virtue Ethics from the denying clutches of those who claim that consistent, stable character doesn't exist and, therefore, Virtue Ethics, which in Aristotle's conception aims to achieve and maintain a consistent, stable character, is wrong. Essentially, Merritt, the author, seemed to agree with her attackers that, if situationism is true, that is, roughly, if our actions are more affected by our situation than by our having a stable character, then Aristotle's account of Virtue Ethics is not true. What she suggests, then, is that we refer to a different conception of Virtue Ethics which does not rely on stable character, such as that of David Hume.
I don't particularly like the article, although I do agree with the idea that Aristotle's Virtue Ethics, as a theory about how the world is, is misguided because it assumes and relies on a level of consistency I don't think human beings have. I'm not going to argue specifically against the article but do have a bone to pick about the way the discussion is framed, here and elsewhere.
In discussions such as in Meritt's and previous articles, the debate seems to be framed in an odd way. Essentially, the arguments at this stage seem to revolve around the following: psychological evidence is allegedly showing that humans do not have stable characters and thus, for some reason or another, Virtue Ethics isn't true.
I, in my blogging-whatever-I-feel-like wisdom, think this discussion is misguided – of course Virtue Ethics isn't true. Regardless of whether the discussed psychological evidence is actually valid or not, a brief period of introspection or anecdotal examination of humans pretty strongly supports that, with respect to 'character' – with traits such as 'courage', 'greed', 'generosity' and the like – consistency is not in our repertoire. We love trying to be consistent, we hold others to the idea that they should be consistent and we describe people in terms of consistent character (he's miserly, she's brave, etc.) but this is obviously not realistic. As such, it seems to me that the shock evident in this discussion of the Fall of Virtue Ethics, stems from an initial, folkloric assumption (held for thousands of years, I suppose) that stable character exists. If we can get rid of this assumption and acknowledge, at the very least, that Aristotle was operating from a very clever but ultimately ill-informed theory as to the stability and consistency of humans, we can hopefully not be shocked into feeling the need to defend, attack or even discuss the issue of its truth.
To me it seems that, similar to Santa, the Bogeyman or being a 'Good boy/girl', Aristotle's stable-character-based account of Virtue Ethics is a noble lie - it is a shorthand tool used to teach us how to be. In reality, things are not actually that simple, but if we start with the idea of cultivating a 'good character' and continue to challenge and contemplate what this means, we should end up ok.
For example, when raising children (something of which I have no experience, mind you, but I'm a 'philosopher' so I'm sure I'll be ok) we teach them to be 'Good'. We don't explain to them that, really, there is no absolute concept of 'Good' and that different situations may call for different versions of 'Good', or that what's 'Good' for this one situation might actually be very 'Bad' in another, or that, really, they can get away with being 'Bad' which might, in the end, actually end up 'Good' anyway and so on. Instead, we come up with a simplification: do X because it is 'Good' and you want to be 'Good'.
Now do Y for the same reason. Get it? Good.
As we get older, we learn about complexity and learn, starting from our parentally-suggested idea of 'Good', to evaluate and determine 'Good' for ourselves. Additionally, we learn that 'Good' is a simplification and not true in the sense that we were initially taught.
To conclude, this is where I think Virtue Ethics is at. It doesn't hold the truth about the right way to act based on this formula or that categorical whatchamacallit, instead it gives us a simplified, folkloric way in which to frame our thoughts about how to be 'Good'. Or something good anyway. Focusing on proving whether or not Virtue Ethics (or much of philosophy, really) is true or not, to me, seems to be kinda missing the point, as would be trying to prove that unicorns don't exist. They're pretty and they have delicious blood, leave them alone.
That's all for today.