The problem of demarcation in contemporary virtue ethics
Wood, Nathan Michael
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The dissertation addresses the question of where virtue ethics fits in the landscape of contemporary normative ethical theories. Virtue ethics has been criticized for its vagueness in its normative theoretical commitments such that certain ethicists have called into question the very status of contemporary virtue ethics as a substantive theory in its own right. The main problem is that if virtue ethics cannot answer the questions that theories like Kantian ethics and utilitarianism are interested in answering, then why think it is a normative theory of similar caliber to Kantian ethics or utilitarianism? In one sense the critics of virtue ethics are right, virtue ethics does not serve the same function as those moral theories because virtue ethics is properly categorized as a “genus theory,” whose function is to orient our moral perspectives towards the considerations and reasons that count as morally salient in the various situations. In light of this distinction, I develop and argue for what I call the dual-aspect theory of virtue ethics that incorporates an internal and external condition that characterizes the genus theory of contemporary virtue ethics. Finally, I will show how this framework gives us a way to understand the uniqueness of virtue ethics as well as clarify where the disagreement truly lies between virtue ethics and other genus theories such as deontology and consequentialism.