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New book explores practical side of virtue
By CSLR | Emory Law | May 23, 2016 2:05:00 PM

A new book by CSLR Senior Fellow Julia Annas explores the nature and structure of virtue. Drawing on the ancient use of skill as an analogue for virtue, she creates a developmental account of virtue as a disposition with the structure of a skill, but also discusses ways in which virtue, unlike skills, is related to the good, and hence to happiness. Intelligent Virtue (Oxford University Press 2011) is a product of CSLR’s Pursuit of Happiness Project.

“We want to be good people, and we want our children to be good people also, because this will be better for us, and for them. But we also want to be successful, attractive, popular, wealthy, and many other things,” writes Annas, Regents Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona. “Most of us do not succeed in working out an overall consistent view among these many things we want until we start reflecting seriously.”  

Annas looks at the ways in which virtue, like a skill employed on materials, can enable us to make the best use of the circumstances of our lives, such as material success or failure. She argues that virtue is not well thought of as involving a determinate set of principles which are then applied in everyday life. Rather, virtue is better thought of along the lines of a practical skill whose principles are internalized in practice, though still available for explicit reflection and sometimes improvement.

“The virtuous person is happy living their life, in so far as that is virtuous. Our perspective is one in which we start by thinking about how we act in the world in ways that we can do better and worse—the perspective of practical expertise. It is not blank ‘know-how’ but skill in which we can become experts,” Annas concludes.