Stoic News

By Dave Kelly

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Achievement of Alasdair MacIntyre

"That word "teleological" is the key to MacIntyre's solution, the loss of which is the cause of the catastrophe described in his science-fiction parable. Teleology is the study of final causes, goals, purposes, and aims: a style of explanation that saturates Aristotle's philosophy. After the combined impact of Newton and Darwin, however, this type of explanation seems mostly quaint-and once Aristotle's science seemed quaint, his ethics soon followed: when Newton demonstrated how motion can be better explained as resulting from the outcome of mechanical laws, and when Darwin posited natural selection as the "mechanism" for explaining an organ's functionality, the use of teleology in ethics was doomed.

"This is perhaps the greatest category mistake ever made in the history of philosophy. Emptying moral discourse of teleological concepts because of the perceived impact of Newton and Darwin has been for MacIntyre the catastrophe of our times. In the Aristotelian tradition, MacIntyre argues, "there is a fundamental contrast between man-as-he- happens-to-be and man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-essential- nature. . . . The precepts which enjoin the various virtues and prohibit the vices instruct us how to move from potentiality to act, how to realize our true nature, and to reach our true end. To defy them will be to be frustrated and incomplete, to fail to achieve that good of rational happiness which it is peculiarly ours as a species to pursue."" Search: alasdair.macintyre

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Eighty-Five Character Disorders

A nice pile of character weaknesses and vices.

Ethical Medical School Applicants?

"The authors suggest that screening for character traits consistent with certain personality disorders is a reasonable step to take in medical school admissions."

"[T]he authors address character traits as indicators of the virtues associated with medicine. They cite a list of descriptors used by physicians to describe inappropriate behavior and attitudes observed in medical students, which includes "selfish," "amoral," "rude," "aggressive," "rigid," and "judgmental." The authors draw a link between these descriptors and traits listed in the psychiatric diagnosis of personality disorders. Since there is an overlap between DSM-IV criteria and moral judgments, the authors reject the movement to keep the two separate and conclude, ". . . we believe it is entirely appropriate to use some of the tools of psychiatry to investigate morality. A logical place to start is to screen applicants with standard questionnaires for the diagnosis of personality disorders.""

Monday, December 13, 2004

Some Strategies for Ethical Decision-Making

7. Virtue ethics: What would a good person do in this situation? (Aristotle)

8. Duty ethics: What are the principles of duty involved in this situation? (Immanuel Kant?e.g., don?t lie; don?t steal, respect others)

9. Utilitarianism or greatest happiness principle: What decision will bring the most happiness to the most people? (Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill)

Virtue Ethics & Core Values

"Only by choosing to be moral for no other reason than that it is the right thing to do can a young person begin the process of freely habituating the virtue. If he chooses the right thing, but that choice is attended by rewards or threats, or perhaps is graded by an instructor, or perhaps is viewed by his friends, then as Jesus said so long ago, "He has his reward." In other words, religious and military education environments tend to make it nearly impossible for their young people to freely choose virtuous activity, since every kind of action is legislated and every individual act is graded, evaluated, and noted. Thus, the opportunity to choose moral action for its own sake, for oneself, evaporates."

Can there be moral virtue with passion?

Summa Theologica

"Objection 1. It would seem that moral virtue cannot be with passion. For the Philosopher says (Topic. iv) that "a gentle man is one who is not passionate; but a patient man is one who is passionate but does not give way." The same applies to all the moral virtues. Therefore all moral virtues are without passion."

Virtues - Resources for Catholic Educators

A list of links to some very good essays.

Contra Virtue Theory

'In his article, "Virtues and Vices," in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Bernard Williams states that there are a number of matters on which a modern account of the virtues would disagree with of Aristotle's classical account in the Nicomachean Ethics, one of which is their reality'.

What are the Virtues?

The Virtues Project

"Virtues are the essence of the human spirit and the content of our character. In each of our books there are 52 virtues, some of which are unique to each book"

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Metapsychology Online Book Reviews - Lack of Character

"The main theme of Doris’s book is that character trait attribution relies on a common misunderstanding about character. If empirical psychology is right, we are prone to assign all sorts of character traits to others even on the thinnest thread of a single instance of behavior. So we should not be surprised to learn that empirical psychology tells us we usually err in character attribution. But we may be more reluctant to agree that even in the most durable of friendships and the longest of relationships we are wrong to suppose our friends and lovers have general character traits like honesty, reliability, impishness or friendliness. Doris argues that any sort of trait attribution is inaccurate, but not because we simply fail to understand what each others’ characters really are. Rather, character attribution will always fail because people do not have general character traits. All moral theory and all empirical psychology is simply erroneous if it presumes that persons possess characters: we lack character."

Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology

Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error

"On this occasion I discuss a different kind of rejection of folk morality, one that derives from contemporary social psychology. It seems that ordinary attributions of character traits to people are often deeply misguided and it may even be the case that there is no such thing as character, no ordinary character traits of the sort people think there are, none of the usual moral virtues and vices."

Thursday, December 09, 2004


"For reasons still not fully understood, a decided reaction against Aquinas and neoscholasticism occurred in the 1960s. Some have erroneously associated this with the Second Vatican Council, which turned people's minds toward social rather than doctrinal issues. Aquinas was, however, the only scholastic doctor mentioned by name in all the conciliar documents. The real reasons for the decline of neoscholasticism must be sought in the wider sociological and psychological concerns of contemporary society."

Monday, December 06, 2004

History and Systems of Psychology: Fall, 2004

"Course Description

"This course is geared to students in training to be practicing clinical psychologists, who want to know how the history and systems of psychology relates to the clinical issues they will face. In the course of their training, these students will be exposed to the two basic theoretical orientations of CBT and psychodynamic psychology. Most probably they will choose one or another orientation as the basis for their own clinical work, or develop some eclectic synthesis of the two.

"The course is organized so as to help them understand and evaluate these two orientations. The course explores the classical roots of psychodynamic psychology is platonic philosophy, and the classical roots of CBT in Aristotelian philosophy. It shows how the scientific revolution and the European enlightenment transformed the classical philosophies into clinical theories.

"Two other secondary themes will be discussed throughout the course. The first is the relationship between reason and passion as it is conceptualized in Western thought. The second is the historical context in which these approaches were developed."

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Big five & organizational virtue

" Of course, there are a whole host of critics of the FFM largely on technical grounds (e.g., Block 1995, Eysenck 1993, McAdams 1992). The concern has also been voiced that the popularity of the FFM is due to a socio-political shift to the right (Comer 1993) since it posits character and not environment as the most important behavioral determinant. In any event, the impact of the FFM on the social sciences is undeniable (Digman 1989; McCrae, Costa, and Busch 1986). The central question for this paper is whether there is anything in this research stream that enlightens the subject of the virtues in business ethics."

An ingenuous account of the doctrine of the mean

"The 'false doctrine of the mean', which Hursthouse attacks, is that to every virtue there correspond two and only two vices. It is clear that this is false: it should be no less clear that Aristotle does not hold it. On the contrary, he is inclined to say that to any virtue there will correspond a great number of vices; he insists that evil is manifold, for example at 1106b28-35:

'Again, it is possible to fail in many ways (for evil belongs to the class of the unlimited, as the Pythagoreans conjectured, and good to that of the limited), while to succeed is possible only in one way (for which reason also one is easy and the other difficult - to miss the mark easy, to hit it difficult); for these reasons, also, then, excess and defect are characteristic of vice, and the mean of virtue;

'For men are good in but one way, but bad in many.'"

Friday, December 03, 2004

Selected Criticisms of Aristotle's Ethics

"as guidance about what is the good life, what precisely one ought to do, or even by what standard one should try to decide what one ought to do, this is too circular to be very helpful. And though Aristotle's account is filled out with detailed descriptions of many of the virtues, moral as well as intellectual, the air of indeterminacy persists. We learn the names of the pairs of contrary vices that contrast with each of the virtues, but very little about where or how to draw the dividing lines, where or how to fix the mean. As Sidgwick says, he "only indicates the whereabouts of virtue.""

The Characters of Theophrastos

"Theophrastus (or Theophrast or Theophrastos) (371 or 372 -287/286) BC, born in Eresos on Lesbos, was a student of Aristotle and succeeded him as a director of the Lyceum in Athens. He took over the philosophy of Aristotle in parts reshaping, commenting, and developing it in an original way. His thinking leads to empirism by means of observation, collection, and classification. He was around 35 years the director of the Lyceum and he was a teacher of up to 2000 students."