Aretaic turn

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The aretaic turn is a movement in contemporary moral philosophy and ethics to emphasize character and human excellence or virtue, as opposed to moral rules or consequences. This movement has been extended to other disciplines, including epistemology, politics, and jurisprudence.

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The meaning of aretaic

Aretaic is from the Greek arete, meaning excellence or virtue. Aretaic thus means of or pertaining to virtue or excellence. In contemporary philosophy, aretaic approaches are those which focus on human excellence or virtue.

The aretaic turn is a movement in contemporary moral philosophy and ethics to emphasize character and human excellence or virtue, as opposed to moral rules or consequences. This movement has been extended to other disciplines, including epistemology, politics, and jurisprudence.

The aretaic turn in moral philosophy

In moral philosophy, the phrase aretaic turn refers to the renewed emphasis on human excellence or virtue in moral theory and ethics. One important moment in the aretaic turn was the publication by the Oxford philosopher G. E. M. Anscombe of Modern Moral Philosophy, which criticized utilitarian and deontological approaches to moral theory and suggested a return to Aristotelean themes in moral philosophy. In the 1960s and 1970s, this led to the emergence of virtue ethics, an approach to moral philosophy that emphasizes the virtues. Important work was done by Philippa Foot, Peter Geach, John McDowell, and others. Contemporary philosophers working on virtue ethics include Rosalind Hursthouse, Michael Slote, and Christine Swanton.

Aretaic approaches to other philosophical problems

The aretaic turn in moral philosophy is paralleled by analogous developments in other philosophical disciplines. These include epistemology, where a distinctive virtue epistemology has been developed by Linda Zagzebski and others. In political theory, there has been discussion of virtue politics, and in legal theory, there is a small but growing literature on virtue jurisprudence.

Criticisms

Aretaic approaches to morality, epistemology, and jurisprudence have been the subject of intense debates. One criticism that is frequently made focuses on the problem of guidance. How does the idea of virtuous moral actor, believer, or judge provide the guidance necessary for action, belief formation, or the decision of legal disputes?

Bibliography

  • Kyron Huigens, Nietzsche and Aretaic Legal Theory (http://www.cardozo.yu.edu/cardlrev/v24n2/Huigens%20Final%20Version.pdf) (2003).
  • Rosalind Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) ISBN 0198238185.
  • Lawrence Solum, The Aretaic Turn in Constitutional Theory (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=512882) (2004).
  • Linda Zagzebski, Virtues of the Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  • Virtue Epistemology: Essays on Epistemic Virtue and Responsibility, edited by Abrol Fairweather and Linda Zagzebski (New York: Oxford UP, 2001).
  • Virtue Ethics, edited by Roger Crisp and Michael Slote (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) ISBN 0-19-875188-5.

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