What’s Aristotelian about Neo-Aristotelian Virtue Ethics? — Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming)
I argue that Aristotle was not a virtue ethicist: he does not explain the goodness of actions in terms of the concept of a virtuous character. This might seem disappointing. We do not find in Aristotle a distinct normative theory alongside deontology and consequentialism. But I argue that we find instead is a sophisticated and compelling view of how being virtuous — performing good actions with the right reasons and desires — puts us in the position to live a good human life.
Acting Virtuously as an End in Aristotle’s Ethics — The British Journal for the History of Philosophy (forthcoming)
I tackle the familiar problem of whether, for Aristotle, virtuous actions are ends, or whether they are for the sake of ends beyond themselves. I argue that we can make sense of Aristotle’s seemingly inconsistent claims about the way virtuous actions are related to their ends by distinguishing between virtuous actions and “acting virtuously” — performing virtuous actions with a full rational grasp of what makes the actions good, and with the appropriate emotional responses. I argue that this distinction sheds light on how to think about the relationship between virtue and happiness in the Nicomachean Ethics
Not Always Worth the Effort: Difficulty and the Value of Achievement— Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (forthcoming)
Recent literature has argued that what makes certain activities ranging from curing cancer to running a marathon count as achievements, and what makes achievements intrinsically valuable is, centrally, that they involve great effort. Gwen Bradford, in her recent book Achievement develops and defends the most worked out version of a difficulty-based account of achievement. She argues that the value of the product of an achievement makes no contribution to its essential value. Rather, we should understand the value of achievements in perfectionist terms: achievements allow us to exercise characteristic human capacities, chief amongst which is “the will”. Although there is much the difficulty-based view gets right, I argue that it generates the wrong results about some central cases of achievement, and this is because it is too narrowly focused on only one perfectionist capacity, “the will”. I propose a revised perfectionist account on which an achievement is an activity that fully exercises or expresses any number of a range of perfectionist capacities.
External Goods and the Complete Exercise of Virtue in Aristotle’s NE — Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie (accepted for publication; final version coming soon)
Aristotle seems to think that certain “external” goods like wealth, political power, good children and a good birth are required for happiness because, in the first place, they are required for virtuous activity. This is puzzling. Intuitively, it seems possible for a virtuous agent to exercise her virtuous character even under conditions of extreme hardship or deprivation. Why then isn’t Aristotle drawn to the Stoic conclusion that even someone suffering from great misfortune can be happy so long as she is able to exercise her virtuous character? I argue there is good sense to be made of Aristotle’s initially puzzling stance of external goods. Specifically, I explain how a range of external goods is required for the full exercise of virtue, and I show that it is only this full exercise of virtue that is constitutive of eudaimonia.
Aristotelian Eudaimonism and the Dualism of Practical Reason — (forthcoming) for The Ethics of Sidgwick and Kant: Exploring the Cosmos of Duty Above and the Moral Law Within
Plato and Aristotle were eudaimonists. They believed that an agent ought to do all things with the ultimate goal of promoting her own happiness or eudaimonia. As such, Plato and Aristotle sought to derive or justify the content of the ethical virtues by showing how these virtues contribute to an agent’s eudaimonia. This, at any rate, is the way that Kant and Sidgwick read Plato and Aristotle and, indeed, how the majority of scholars have understood ancient ethical theories. Both Kant and Sidgwick criticize eudaimonist theories for reducing moral reasons to mere prudential reasons; both argue that ancient ethical theories fail to recognize that we have reasons independent of our own happiness for performing just, generous or courageous actions. In this paper, I call into question the pervasive assumption that Aristotle’s ethical theory really was eudaimonist in the sense described. I review some of the textual and philosophical challenges in interpreting Aristotle’s apparent commitment to eudaimonism, and consider some of the strategies employed by commentators to resolve these challenges. I conclude by suggesting how one strategy of interpreting Aristotle’s apparent eudaimonism can avoid some of the most serious challenges pressed by Kant and Sidgwick.