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How Much?Why Some Things Should Not Be for SaleWisdom, Intuition and EthicsWithout ConscienceWomen and Borderline Personality DisorderWomen and MadnessWondergenesWould You Kill the Fat Man?Wrestling with Behavioral GeneticsWriting About PatientsYou Must Be DreamingYour Genetic DestinyYour Inner FishYouth Offending and Youth Justice Yuck!
I think that this volume is among the most important anthologies of the last years in the ever-growing field of virtue ethics. Kevin Timpe and Craig A. Boyd have put together an impressive collection of original papers addressing the problem of virtues and their attached vices from a systematic perspective that is deeply rooted in the history of virtue theory.
Probably the most striking as well as intriguing feature of the anthology is its structure. It models virtue ethics along classical, historical lines of demarcation that are systematic in nature till this day: The first section covers the cardinal virtues prudence, justice, fortitude, and finally temperance.
The second section switches perspective -- it discusses the so called capital vices as well as their attached virtues that fulfill a regulative role in the sense that they can be understood as correctives counteracting the self-centered perspective of the respective vices. I think that this listing and structure -- pairing the virtues with their vice-counterparts -- poses a very interesting approach to virtue ethics, which seems to be indeed a 'road less travelled' in the current debate. Why this is the case, one might only speculate about -- nevertheless its advantages are obvious. For both classical approaches to virtues -- the Aristotelian as well as the Stoic -- a virtue is something, which develops as a 'middle' between extremes; it is a form of human excellence which is understood only in relation to those extremes. In the discussion of the virtue of humility by one of the major figures of medieval virtue theory -- Thomas Aquinas -- this idea of understanding virtues based upon their converse vices reaches one of its apexes: Aquinas models humility (Summa Theologiae: 2a2ae, q.162 a.4) almost solely in contraposition to the vice of pride. The papers of the second section address lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.
I hope to have motivated the claim that Timpe's and Boyd's approach is very interesting. The second section not only portrays the debate in the discussed systematics, but it also highlights beautifully another important feature of the volume: Although, many contributions pose historically nuanced accounts of their respective matter of interest, the systematic outreach of the volume is not lost.
The third and fourth section are concerned with two special classes of virtues: the intellectual virtues -- trust, episteme, and sophia -- and the theological virtues -- faith, hope, and charity. The volume is concluded by a section which addresses virtues “across the disciplines”. Although, I found many of the papers -- for example the piece on virtues in positive psychology -- interesting and illuminating to read, I could not clearly see how this last section fits into the systematic of the anthology. If I would have to point out one aspect of the volume to criticize, it would be the last section (see also the next paragraph). But this seems -- at the end of the day -- a very minor criticism about an otherwise wonderful book.
Considering this last section of the volume, I would have loved for the editors to include an explicit paper on the different strains of modeling virtues. In their concise introduction to the volume, Timpe and Boyd do address the distinction between Aristotelian and Stoic concepts of virtue. This is a distinction that takes effect in the different papers: where the Aristotelian would hold that virtues are excellences of certain human faculties, the Stoic account would advance the idea that virtue is basically a state of mind. Accordingly, Cicero (De Legibus: I, 45) considers talk about excellences (virtus) of the knife, etc. as faulty. I think that addressing this central distinction in an original paper -- the Stoic interpretation does for example influence early medieval philosophy (cf. Abaelard) -- would have helped to make implicit distinctions and considerations of the different lines of thought concerning virtues and vices explicit.
One thing needs to be added to what has been said: I think that the editors have done tremendous job in selecting the contributors to this volume. The volume is comprised of many excellent contributions from major figures in their respective fields and it seems that Timpe and Boyd have chosen the contributors with much care.
At the end of the day, I would like to wholeheartedly recommend this anthology to anyone working in the field of virtue ethics and in broader sense in the field of virtue theory. But also philosophers of religion as well as theologian, and interested students will profit from reading this admittedly rather bulky book. Because of its rather unique focus on the systematics of virtues and their vices, I consider the volume to vital contribution to the debate.
© 2015 Ludwig Jaskolla
Ludwig Jaskolla (Munich School of Philosophy)
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