Eudaimonist virtue ethics and the charge of self-absorption
LE3 .A278 2022
Bachelor of Arts
The aim of this work is to contribute to the ongoing debate between eudaimonist virtue ethicists (or EVE) and their detractors who claim that it is too egoistic or self-absorbed to seek one’s own eudaimonia (i.e., happiness or flourishing) as the ultimate ethical goal of life and to develop the virtues on that account. This debate has its roots with the re-emergence of virtue ethics in the late 1950’s after Elisabeth Anscombe published her famous paper Modern Moral Philosophy. But this paper will mainly focus on the more recent attempts by eudaimonist virtue ethicists like Julia Annas, Anne Baril, Mark LeBar and Daniel C. Russell to defend eudaimonist accounts from self-absorption objections, and the counter-responses to their arguments, most notably those laid out by Jeff D’Souza in his article The Self-Absorption Objection and Neo- Aristotelian Virtue-Ethics. These critics appeal to the idea that so long as one’s underlying or primary motivation is to seek one’s own end, no matter how selfless or other-regarding one’s actions actually are, the motivational account is deemed to be too self-absorbed. I begin by laying out the general history of the debate and its parameters before addressing the most prominent arguments and positions currently held by supporters of EVE as well as the objections to those arguments. Finally, I try to show that while the most recent criticisms of eudaimonist accounts are perceptive and more penetrating than any criticisms to come before, they are, nevertheless, mistaken, and that the arguments put forward by defenders of EVE can be salvaged. This can be done by closely examining the initial stages of human motivation and moral activity and discovering that humans have little choice but for their primary motives to be self-directed, but that this is not necessarily egoistic or self-absorbed in the problematic sense that critics would hold it to be. Finally, I argue that the pursuit of eudaimonia is a realistic end which is best suited for shaping virtuous character and therefore genuine altruistic behaviour toward others.
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