Ideas of Rosalind Hursthouse, by Theme

[New Zealand, fl. 1996, Of the Open University in Britain, and then Auckland University, NZ]

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16. Persons / B. Nature of the Self / 2. Ethical Self
The word 'person' is useless in ethics, because what counts as a good or bad self-conscious being?
     Full Idea: An excellent reason for keeping the word 'person' out of ethics is that it is usually so thinly defined that it cannot generate any sense of 'good person'. If a person is just a self-conscious being, what would count as a good or bad one?
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.9 n20)
     A reaction: A nice point. Locke's concept of a person (rational self-conscious being) lacks depth and individuality, and Hitler fulfils the criteria as well as any saint. But if Hitler wasn't a 'bad person', what was he bad at being?
20. Action / B. Preliminaries of Action / 2. Willed Action / d. Weakness of will
There may be inverse akrasia, where the agent's action is better than their judgement recommends
     Full Idea: There seem to be cases of 'inverse akrasia', in which the course of action actually followed is superior to the course of action recommended by the agent's best judgement.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.7)
     A reaction: This must occur, as when an assassin lets his victim off, and then regrets the deed. It strengthens the case against Socrates, and in favour of their being two parts of the soul which compete to motivate our actions.
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 2. Acting on Beliefs / a. Acting on beliefs
Must all actions be caused in part by a desire, or can a belief on its own be sufficient?
     Full Idea: In contemporary philosophy of action, there is a fervid debate about whether any intentional action must be prompted in part by desire, or whether it is possible to be moved to action by a belief alone.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Intro)
     A reaction: I want a cool belief to be sufficient to produce an action, because it will permit at least a Kantian dimension to ethics, and make judgement central, and marginalise emotivism, which is the spawn of Satan.
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 3. Acting on Reason / b. Intellectualism
It is a fantasy that only through the study of philosophy can one become virtuous
     Full Idea: It is a fantasy that only through the study of philosophy can one become virtuous.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.6)
     A reaction: I personally believe that philosophy is the best route yet devised to the achievement of virtue, but it is clearly not essential. All the philosophers I meet are remarkably virtuous, but that may be a chicken/egg thing.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / d. Good as virtue
Virtue may be neither sufficient nor necessary for eudaimonia
     Full Idea: Some critics say virtue is not necessary for eudaimonia (since the wicked sometimes flourish), and others say it is not sufficient (because virtuous behaviour sometimes ruins a life).
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.8)
     A reaction: Both criticisms seem wrong (the wicked don't 'flourish', and complete virtue never ruins lives, except in tragic dilemmas). But it is hard to prove them wrong.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / g. Consequentialism
Teenagers are often quite wise about ideals, but rather stupid about consequences
     Full Idea: Adolescents tend to be much more gormless about consequences than they are about ideals.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.2 n12)
     A reaction: Very accurate, I'm afraid. But this cuts both ways. They seem to need education not in virtue, but simply in consequences.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 2. Happiness / b. Eudaimonia
Animals and plants can 'flourish', but only rational beings can have eudaimonia
     Full Idea: The trouble with 'flourishing' as a translation of 'eudaimonia' is that animals and even plants can flourish, but eudaimonia is possible only for rational beings.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Intro)
     A reaction: 'Flourishing' still seems better than 'happy', which is centrally used now to refer to a state of mind, not a situation. 'Well being' seems good, and plants are usually permitted that.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 1. Virtue Theory / a. Nature of virtue
When it comes to bringing up children, most of us think that the virtues are the best bet
     Full Idea: If you think about bringing up children to prepare them for life, rather than converting the wicked or convincing the moral sceptic, isn't virtue the most reliable bet?
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.8)
     A reaction: A very convincing idea. They haven't the imagination to grasp consequences properly, or sufficient abstract thought to grasp principles, or the political cunning to negotiate contracts, but they can grasp ideals of what a good person is like.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 1. Virtue Theory / b. Basis of virtue
Eudaimonia first; virtue is a trait which promotes it; right acts are what virtues produce
     Full Idea: Hursthouse defines a virtue as a trait humans need to flourish or live well, ...so 'eudaimonia' is conceptually foundational, the concept of virtue is then derived, and the concept of a right act is derived from that.
     From: report of Rosalind Hursthouse (Virtue Theory and Abortion [1992], p.226) by Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski - Virtues of the Mind II.1
     A reaction: Zagzebski is mapping different types of virtue theory. The purest theories say that virtue is intrinsically good. The others seem to be instrumental, in varying degrees. Zagzebski makes good motivations prior.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 1. Virtue Theory / c. Particularism
Any strict ranking of virtues or rules gets abandoned when faced with particular cases
     Full Idea: Any codification ranking the virtues, like any codification ranking the rules, is bound to come up against cases where we will want to change the rankings.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.2)
     A reaction: This seems right, and yet it feels like a slippery slope. Am I supposed to be virtuous and wise, but have no principles? Infinite flexibility can lead straight to wickedness. Even the wise need something to hang on to.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 1. Virtue Theory / d. Virtue theory critique
Virtue ethics is open to the objection that it fails to show priority among the virtues
     Full Idea: One criticism of virtue ethics is that it lamentably fails to come up with a priority ranking of the virtues.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.2)
     A reaction: However, one might refer to man's essential function, or characteristic function, and one might derive the virtues of a good citizen from the nature of a good society.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 2. Elements of Virtue Theory / a. Natural virtue
Good animals can survive, breed, feel characteristic pleasure and pain, and contribute to the group
     Full Idea: A good social animal is well fitted for 1) individual survival, 2) continuance of its species, 3) characteristic freedom from pain and enjoyment, and 4) good characteristic functioning of its social group.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.9)
     A reaction: This feels right, but brings out the characteristic conservativism of virtue theory. A squirrel which can recite Shakespeare turns out to be immoral.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 2. Elements of Virtue Theory / c. Motivation for virtue
Virtuous people may not be fully clear about their reasons for action
     Full Idea: Virtue must surely be compatible with a fair amount of inarticulacy about one's reasons for action.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.6)
     A reaction: Virtuous people may be unclear, but we are entitled to hope for clarification from moral philosophers. The least we can hope for is some distinction between virtue and vice.
Performing an act simply because it is virtuous is sufficient to be 'morally motivated' or 'dutiful'
     Full Idea: Acting virtuously, in the way the virtuous agent acts, namely from virtue, is sufficient for being 'morally motivated' or acting 'from a sense of duty'.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.7)
     A reaction: Fine, but it invites the question of WHY virtue is motivating, just as one can ask this of maximum happiness, or duty, or even satisfaction of selfish desires.
If moral motivation is an all-or-nothing sense of duty, how can children act morally?
     Full Idea: If you are inclined to think that 'moral motivation', acting because you think it is right, must be an all-or-nothing matter, its presence determined by the agent's mind at the moment of acting, do, please, remember children.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.7)
     A reaction: I agree about the vital importance of remembering children when discussing morality. However, Kantians might legitimately claim that when a child is simply trained to behave well, it has not yet reached the age of true morality.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 2. Elements of Virtue Theory / h. Right feelings
The emotions of sympathy, compassion and love are no guarantee of right action or acting well
     Full Idea: The emotions of sympathy, compassion and love are no guarantee of right action or acting well.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.4)
     A reaction: This is a critique of Hume, and of utlitarianism. It pushes us either to the concept of duty, or the concept of virtue (independent of right feeling).
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 2. Elements of Virtue Theory / i. Absolute virtues
According to virtue ethics, two agents may respond differently, and yet both be right
     Full Idea: According to virtue ethics, in a given situation two different agents may do what is right, what gets a tick of approval, despite the fact that each fails to do what the other did.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.3)
     A reaction: You could certainly have great respect for two entirely different decisions about a medical dilemma, if they both showed integrity and good will, even if one had worse consequences than the other.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 2. Elements of Virtue Theory / j. Unity of virtue
Maybe in a deeply poisoned character none of their milder character traits could ever be a virtue
     Full Idea: I am prepare to stick my neck out and say that extreme Nazis or racists (say) have poisoned characters to such an extent that none of their character traits could ever count as a virtue.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.7)
     A reaction: Hard to justify, but it is hard to respect a mass murderer because they seem to love their dog or the beauty of music or flowers. They can't possibly appreciate the Platonic Form of love or beauty?
We are puzzled by a person who can show an exceptional virtue and also behave very badly
     Full Idea: That we have some intuitive belief in the unity of the virtues is shown by our reaction to stories of a person who has shown an exceptional virtue, but also done something morally repellent.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.7)
     A reaction: A nice observation, but not enough to establish the unity of virtue. People tend to love all virtue, but it is not obviously impossible to love selected virtues and despise others (e.g. love courage, and despise charity).
Being unusually virtuous in some areas may entail being less virtuous in others
     Full Idea: It may well be that being particularly well endowed with respect to some virtues inevitably involves being not very well endowed in others.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.9)
     A reaction: Maybe, but this sound a bit like an excuse. Newton wasn't very nice, but Einstein was. I can't believe in a finite reservoir of virtue.
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 1. Deontology
Deontologists do consider consequences, because they reveal when a rule might apply
     Full Idea: Though it is sometimes said that deontologists 'take no account of consequences', this is manifestly false, for many actions we deliberate about only fall under rules or principles when we bring in their predicted consequences.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.1)
     A reaction: An important defence of deontology, which otherwise is vulnerable to the 'well-meaning fool' problem. It is no good having a good will, but refusing to think about consequences.
'Codifiable' morality give rules for decisions which don't require wisdom
     Full Idea: If morality is strongly 'codifiable', it should consist of rules which provide a decision procedure, and it should be equally applicable by the virtuous and the non-virtuous, without recourse to wisdom.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.2)
     A reaction: A key idea. Religions want obedience, and Kant wants morality to be impersonal, and most people want morality which simple uneducated people can follow. And yet how can wisdom ever be irrelevant?
23. Ethics / E. Utilitarianism / 1. Utilitarianism
Deontologists usually accuse utilitarians of oversimplifying hard cases
     Full Idea: Deontologists characteristically maintain that utilitarians have made out a particular hard case to be too simple.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.3)
     A reaction: Utilitarianism certainly seems to ignore the anguish of hard dilemmas, but that is supposed to be its appeal. If you think for too long, every dilemma begins to seem hopeless.
Preference utilitarianism aims to be completely value-free, or empirical
     Full Idea: There are some forms of utilitarianism which aim to be entirely 'value-free' or empirical, such as those which define happiness in terms of the satisfaction of actual desires or preferences, regardless of their content.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.1)
     A reaction: This point makes it clear that preference utilitarianism is a doomed enterprise. For a start I can prefer not to be a utilitarian. You can only maximise something if you value if. Are preferences valuable?
We are torn between utilitarian and deontological views of lying, depending on the examples
     Full Idea: Utilitarianism says there is nothing intrinsically wrong with lying, but examples of bare-faced lying to increase happiness drive us to deontology; but then examples where telling the truth has appalling consequences drive us back to utilitarianism again.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.3)
     A reaction: A nice illustration of why virtue theory suddenly seemed appealing. Deontology can cope, though, by seeing other duties when the consequences are dreadful.
24. Applied Ethics / A. Decision Conflicts / 2. Dilemmas
You are not a dishonest person if a tragic dilemma forces you to do something dishonest
     Full Idea: Doing what is, say, dishonest solely in the context of a tragic dilemma does not entail being dishonest, possessing that vice.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.3 n8)
     A reaction: This seems right, although it mustn't be thought that the dishonesty is thereby excused. Virtuous people find being dishonest very painful.
Involuntary actions performed in tragic dilemmas are bad because they mar a good life
     Full Idea: The actions a virtuous agent is forced to in tragic dilemmas fail to be good actions because the doing of them, no matter how unwillingly or involuntarily, mars or ruins a good life.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.3)
     A reaction: Of course, only virtuous people have their lives ruined by such things. For the cold or the wicked it is just water off a duck's back.
After a moral dilemma is resolved there is still a 'remainder', requiring (say) regret
     Full Idea: When one moral requirement has overriden another in a dilemma, there is still a 'remainder', so that regret, or the recognition of some new requirement, are still appropriate.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.2)
     A reaction: This is a powerful point on behalf of virtue ethics. There is a correct way to feel about the application of rules and calculations. Judges sleep well at night, but virtuous people may not.
Deontologists resolve moral dilemmas by saying the rule conflict is merely apparent
     Full Idea: With respect to resolvable dilemmas, the deontologist's strategy is to argue that the 'conflict' between the two rules which has generated the dilemma is merely apparent.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.2)
     A reaction: This assumes that the rules can't conflict (because they come for God, or pure reason), but we might say that there are correct rules which do conflict. Morality isn't physics, or tennis.
25. Society / A. State of Nature / 1. A People / a. Human distinctiveness
We are distinct from other animals in behaving rationally - pursuing something as good, for reasons
     Full Idea: Our characteristic way of going on, which distinguishes us from all the other species of animals, is a rational way, which is any way we can rightly see as good, as something we have reason to do.
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch10)
     A reaction: Some people more than others, and none of us all the time. Romantics see rationality as a restraint on the authentic emotional and animal life. 'Be a good animal'. However, I agree.
28. God / A. Divine Nature / 6. Divine Morality / b. Euthyphro question
If people are virtuous in obedience to God, would they become wicked if they lost their faith?
     Full Idea: If people perform virtuous actions simply because they are commanded by God, would they cease to perform such actions if they lost their faith in God?
     From: Rosalind Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics [1999], Ch.6)
     A reaction: To be consistent, the answer might be 'yes', but that invites the response that only intrinsically evil people need to be Christians. The rest of us can be good without it.