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Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Vol 7$
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Mark C Timmons

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198808930

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198808930.001.0001

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Acts, Agents, and the Definition of Virtue

Acts, Agents, and the Definition of Virtue

(p.251) 12 Acts, Agents, and the Definition of Virtue
Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Vol 7

Gopal Sreenivasan

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses the direction of epistemological priority between traits and actions in the definition of virtue. Do we first identify a character trait as kind, say, and only then identify its characteristic expressions as kind acts? Or do we identify various acts as kind acts first, and only then identify the agents who perform them as kind agents? This chapter defends a modest agent-centered view: some kind acts can be identified as kind without reference to any kind agent, while other kind acts cannot be identified as kind except by identifying them as the characteristic expressions of a certain trait (kindness). Many proponents of virtue ethics are committed to a privileged role for agents in the definition of virtue; and they regard this commitment as making their enterprise distinctive. In preserving an indispensable role for virtuous agents in the identification of virtuous actions, the present argument vindicates their aspiration.

Keywords:   virtue, definition, act, agent, priority, character trait, kindness, virtue ethics, epistemology

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