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See also: Divine command theory , Divine law , Morality without religion , Religious law , and Secular ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University. Retrieved 22 March A Dictionary of Philosophy. The maxim 'Treat others how you wish to be treated'. Various expressions of this fundamental moral rule are to be found in tenets of most religions and creeds through the ages, testifying to its universal applicability. He posits that it "express[es] the essence of a universal morality.
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Positions Aesthetics Formalism Institutionalism Aesthetic response. He identifies ten ways in which contemporary virtue ethics differs from Aristotelian ethics.
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Of the claims made, three are particularly controversial. First, Sanford repeatedly claims that Aristotelian ethics alone endorses moral absolutes. In his view, all other theories devolve into problematic forms of consequentialism, since the outcome of an action becomes the morally decisive factor in all hard cases. By contrast, Aristotelian virtue theory argues that happiness is the logical consequence of virtue, not the other way around. Sanford insists that, for Aristotle, setting aside absolutist principles can never lead to happiness or right action, because it is impossible to use a virtue wrongly.
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While it is true, strictly speaking, that virtue leads to happiness for Aristotle, Sanford glosses over tough cases that Aristotle himself raises. Throughout book one of the Nicomachean Ethics , for example, Aristotle repeatedly writes of Priam, the virtuous king of Troy. Aristotle argues that only a philosopher defending a thesis at all costs would insist that the virtuous Priam was happy as he endured the devastating losses of his city and children.
Due to horrible circumstances, Priam was cut off from happiness. In his case, virtue was necessary but not sufficient for attaining happiness.
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This leads one to examine the connection between virtue and right action in other kinds of tragic scenarios. For example, an agent might tragically face the choice, say, to be honest to a madman or to lie to save the life of an innocent person. Second, Sanford claims that Aristotle is not a foundationalist. Aristotle does not try to justify what counts as a virtue; rather, he aims to explain the contours of what we already know to be virtuous.
While Aristotle assumes in the Nicomachean Ethics that the virtues are good, he does so because of the metaphysical and anthropological background that grounds this assumption. This is particularly evident in his function argument, which contends that the virtues are choiceworthy because they are the means by which people fulfill their human nature. Sanford himself seems to recognize this, for he devotes entire chapters to anthropology and teleology.
At times, Sanford argues that an adequate anthropology could ground a proper understanding of practical wisdom. At other times, he suggests that linguistic analysis could objectively ground our notions of good and bad. At other times, he argues that we access what is practically wise through culture building, through understanding the difference between primary and basic understandings, or through a robust account of the foundations of moral principles.
At a minimum, clarifying the grounds of practical wisdom would be helpful, since Sanford argues that this is an important point of distinction between modern moral philosophy and Aristotelian virtue theory. Nevertheless, by the end of the first part of the book Sanford successfully demonstrates that Aristotle would not fit in well with contemporary virtue ethicists. Sanford then moves to defend the second main thesis of the book: that Aristotelian ethics is better because it is non-reductionistic and answers questions more completely than does any version of modern moral philosophy.
In order to do justice to any of these topics, much more support would be needed. He acknowledges that any argument for an overarching end in life is wildly philosophically unfashionable. Sanford concludes his argument by stumping for the normativity that attends virtue theory. He focuses on Thomistic natural law, giving a broad description of natural law as it differs from contractarian, procedural political theories, particularly that of John Rawls.
Sanford argues that procedural, contractarian theory is grounded on a faulty anthropology that Thomistic natural law avoids. Due to a faulty anthropology, contractarian views mistakenly conclude that justice is a matter of procedural fairness rather than a matter of thick, virtuous interpersonal interactions. A Lockean contractarian view, for example, is often coupled with exhortations to virtue in order to stabilize the contractarian structure. Before Virtue concludes with a brief summary and assessment of the virtue ethics movement, as well as a call to proceed with the vindicated project of defending Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical psychology.
Throughout Before Virtue , Sanford reviews an impressive amount of recent scholarship to build his case for radical virtue ethics. He describes nuanced and important differences in approaches to ethical theory that are central for anybody interested in how to argue well about morality. Yet a great deal of work remains. Developing an adequate philosophical psychology emerges as just as formidable a task today as it was in
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