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Title: Two claims about the importance of virtue to social justice
Author: Hope, S.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2007
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Many modern political philosophers have been dissatisfied with the claim, located in an influential strand of modern liberalism, that a conception of justice should be limited in scope to the principles that determine the operation of social institutions. This institutional focus, critics allege, ignores the crucial importance of the character of citizens and ideas of virtue. Some insist that a just society will ensure that citizens lead good and flourishing lives, and that the moral virtues are an essential aspect for flourishing. For them, the virtues are foundationally important. Other critics argue that in order for a society to remain just, citizens must possess certain civic virtues and a strong sense of civic identity. For such critics, the virtues are instrumentally important. My doctorate assesses the foundational and instrumental claims advanced by, respectively, contemporary Aristotelians and contemporary proponents of civic virtue. Against both, I defend the neglected position that insofar as considerations of character are important to a plausible conception of social justice, the focus ought to be on vice rather than virtue. I draw upon an expanded Humean account of “the circumstances of justice” to establish that no plausible conception of justice can idealise away deep moral disagreement. Accordingly reasons for moral propositions must be intelligible to agents who bear different moral outlooks. Aristotelian claims about the foundational importance of virtue, I argue, rely on assumptions about practical reasoning that render them too insensitive to disagreement. I then turn to claims that derive the instrumental importance of virtue from the requirements of stability. I demonstrate that, when the problem of stability is properly laid out and the extent of moral disagreement taken into account, a stable institutional scheme requires only that destabilising vices are minimised. No claims about virtue necessarily follow, and so the importance of virtue is, accordingly, extremely limited.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available