Roles and Virtues

Authored by: J. L. A. Garcia

The Routledge Companion to Virtue Ethics

Print publication date:  February  2015
Online publication date:  February  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415659338
eBook ISBN: 9780203071755
Adobe ISBN: 9781135096694


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Roles are a natural fit for the virtues. One reason is that we intuitively think of virtues as tied to roles, talking of the virtues of and in a teacher, a friend, a parent, and so on. Another, only a bit more theoretical, is that we think virtues cause something to be good—Aristotle says virtues make a thing and its operation good—but the way this works is largely (arguably, always) through functions and roles. That is, its sharpness makes this a good knife; its softness makes that good putty; her stamina makes her a good swimmer; his devotion makes him a good friend; their reliability makes them good collaborators; that person’s loyalty makes him or her a good citizen. The role-virtues in these last examples will strike many as moral virtues. Not the skills or talents that help someone fulfill a role, of course, but rather the commitments and concern internal to fulfilling certain roles fundamental to human flourishing will be role-virtues that are therein moral virtues. Likewise, many duties we see as role-duties—that is, duties that someone has within, and because she occupies a certain role—seem also to be moral duties, as, for instance, the shopkeeper’s honesty, or the employee’s conscientiousness and her employer’s reciprocal fidelity to their contract.

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