A Theory of Virtue: Introductory Remarks

Philosophical Studies, Volume 148, Number 1.

 By Robert Marrihew Adams 

What is virtue? A plausible first answer is that virtue is goodness of moral character. The theory of virtue proposed in my book, A Theory of Virtue (Adams 2006), belongs to the department of ethical theory that is concerned with the evaluation of character and traits of character, or of relatively persistent moral qualities, or moral states, of persons. I distinguish that from another department of ethics that is concerned with the evaluation of actions or types of action; and I distinguish both of those, as departments of substantive ethical theory, from metaethics, which is concerned with the epistemology, semantics, and metaphysics of ethics. Unlike some of the most influential contributors to the discussion of virtue in the last half century or so, I do not believe that we can render metaethical problems more tractable by explicating moral evaluations of actions in terms of virtues. I believe that our ethical evaluations of actions should be taken into account in our ethical evaluations of states and traits, and vice versa, but neither type of evaluation is categorically or systematically prior to the other. The best reason for having a theory of virtue is that traits of character are important objects of ethical evaluation in their own right.

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