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Burdened VirtuesVirtue Ethics for Liberatory Struggles$
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Lisa Tessman

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195179149

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2005

DOI: 10.1093/0195179145.001.0001

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 The Ordinary Vices of Domination

 The Ordinary Vices of Domination

(p.53) 3 The Ordinary Vices of Domination
Burdened Virtues

Lisa Tessman (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Virtue ethics seems to present a puzzle about the privileged: If moral virtue is necessary for flourishing (which is a core assumption of virtue ethics), then members of privileged groups can only flourish if they are morally good, but it is more plausible to conceive of the privileged as morally deficient than as morally good, since their privileges result from unjust social positions. Thus it appears that they are barred from flourishing, which is odd since one would expect conditions of oppression to prevent the victims rather than the beneficiaries of these conditions from living the good life. The puzzle begins to dissolve when one distinguishes between the contemporary understanding of happiness and the ancient Greek conception of flourishing, for it turns out that privileged people can be said to be happy without granting that they flourish. The distinction helps uncover a key assumption of interdependence behind the belief that even the so-called other-regarding virtues (and not just self-regarding virtues) are necessary for one’s own flourishing; if people are interdependent in such a way that the flourishing of one is tied to the flourishing of all, then for the privileged to flourish they would have to worry a lot more about the well-being of the disadvantaged. This suggests a critical revision to Aristotle’s eudaimonistic theory, by the addition of the claim that a trait that contributes to one’s own well-being cannot count as morally praiseworthy if it detracts from the flourishing of an inclusive social collectivity.

Keywords:   privilege, flourishing, virtue, self-regarding virtues, other-regarding virtues, Aristotle, eudaimonism, interdependence

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