• Unit 5: Ethics and Politics of Virtue

    Prior to any of the theories we have considered so far, most accounts of what it is for a person to be moral, or for a society to be just, centered on some conception of virtue. The most famous proponent of virtue as the basis for living a good human life and creating a good state is Aristotle. Although recently, Alasdair MacIntyre and a growing number of moral and political theorists have been returning 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 we as a society come to agree about what living virtuously means?

    In this unit, we will examine Aristotle's theory of a society organized on the basis of virtue, as well as some modern communitarian extensions of his general line of thought. We will contrast Aristotle's notion of virtue with the existentialist concepts of will to power (as in Friedrich Nietszche) and radical freedom and radical responsibility (as in Jean-Paul Sartre). We will see how these theories bear on certain controversial topics of our day. Upon completing this course you will be able to consider these type of difficult controversies with a much richer and 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

      • Receive a grade