• Unit 5: Ethics and Politics of Virtue

    Prior to any of the theories we have considered so far, most accounts of what it means for a person to be moral, or for a society to be just, centered on some conception of virtue. Aristotle is the most famous proponent of virtue, as the basis for living a good human life and creating a good state. Recently, Alasdair MacIntyre and a growing number of moral and political theorists have returned to the concept of virtue as an antidote to what they interpret as an over-emphasis on individual rights and freedoms, and a neglect of community and tradition in political thought since the Enlightenment. But can our society agree on what living virtuously means?

    In this unit, we examine Aristotle's theory of a society organized on the basis of virtue, and some modern communitarian extensions of his general line of thought. We contrast Aristotle's notion of virtue with existentialist concepts of will to power (as in Friedrich Nietszche), and radical freedom and radical responsibility (as in Jean Paul Sartre). We see how these theories bear on certain controversial topics of our day. This discussion will help you consider these types of difficult controversies from a richer, more informed perspective.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 10 hours.

    • 5.1: Aristotle as a Champion of Merit-Based Justice

    • 5.2: Justice Is Respect for Virtue

    • 5.3: Virtue vs. Disability: The Case of Casey Martin

    • 5.4: Constrained Freedom: Justice within the Bounds of a Community

    • 5.5: Justice, the Good, and the Problem of Agreement

    • 5.6: Cultural Relativism

    • 5.7: Existentialist Ethics

    • 5.8: The Relation between Morality and the Law

    • Unit 5 Discussion

    • Unit 5 Assessment