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John Mcdowell - Virtue and Reason - Essay Example

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McDowell’s notion of a virtuous agent depends on the “sensitivity” of the agent to see what a virtue requires (for instance, what constitutes prudence in a certain situation). This sensitivity arises in a virtuous agent when he or she is faced with the particular details of states of affairs. It is a perceptual awareness of the right reasons for acting in certain ways. Because such sensitivity amounts to getting things right, McDowell claims that this sensitivity is a form of knowledge, and since this sensitivity is a virtue, virtues extend directly from moral knowledge. As McDowell puts it, the reliable sensitivity constitutes knowledge and it is also a necessary condition for virtue. Accordingly, McDowell is claiming that knowledge is a necessary condition for virtues. But one can conceive of a person of who has moral knowledge, or virtues, but is unmotivated to act virtuously, which is a person that McDowell logically dismisses as impossible. However, it is a clear and intuitive possibility that simply because a person has moral knowledge, he or she is not necessarily motivated to act upon it. McDowell responds by claiming that a person who fails to act virtuously, even though he knew what amounted to virtue, failed to do so only by clouded judgment or a desire to do otherwise. This is the Aristotelian answer to the objection. However, what this response leads to is the rejection of virtue as anything more than sensitivity. Although McDowell has been claiming that virtue is more than sensitivity (it is also about acting upon the virtue), this reply to the objection of the unfocused, clouded desire implies that the failure to act is not due to the one’s lack of a thing that the virtuous person has. The virtuous person and the non-virtuous person have the same sensitivity to what virtue requires, so as a result, it cannot be the case that knowledge of what virtue requires is what separates the virtuous from the non-virtuous. Socrates overcomes this problem by claiming that the difference between a virtuous person and a non-virtuous person is ignorance. Unlike Aristotle, Socrates does not need to account for this objection with the existence of a desire or a clouded judgment, which is the approach McDowell takes as well. Instead, McDowell dismisses Socrates’ answer as extreme and favors instead the response given by Aristotle. A second premise inherent in McDowell’s “Virtue and Reason” is t ...Show more


In “Virtue and Reason”, John McDowell addresses some ancient accounts of virtue ethics that, despite their age, still retain a fair amount of relevance to modern discourse about morality…
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John Mcdowell - Virtue and Reason essay example
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