Reflection on the "good" as a source of freedom in virtue theory

John DiBenedetto Morse, Marquette University


In communitarian forms of virtue theory, there exists a tension between the influence of the community on moral development and individual responsibility. Virtue theory emphasizes the role of character in influencing action. Because of the relationship between character and action, writers in virtue theory have argued that individual responsibility depends on the ability of the individual to control the formation of his character, or his ability to change his existing character. But, virtue theory is at the same time committed to the thesis that the community is involved in the formation of character, insofar as the institutions of one's community both reinforce behavior and provide a conception of the good life for which an individual should strive. To this point, arguments in contemporary virtue theory and theories of responsibility ground freedom in the ability of the individual to assess his character through reflection in light of a concept of the good life. But, existing arguments do not address two problems inherent in grounding freedom and responsibility in reflection about character. One, reflection is an activity that requires a set of skills and character dispositions that are not innate. The individual must develop character traits like tolerance and humility in order to reflect in a meaningful manner. Two, reflection about one's character supposes a standard, a theory of the good life, against which an individual is judging the adequacy of his existing character. Since communitarian forms of virtue theory argue that the community inculcates in the individual a conception of the good life, it is necessary to acknowledge the impact of the community in process of reflection. In this dissertation, I propose that individual responsibility is possible within communitarian forms of virtue theory. Communities must develop systems of moral education that promote reflective individuals. Further, an individual must not only evaluate his character in light of a concept of the good in order to be completely free; rather, he must also evaluate the source of his view of the good on which his reflection is based in order to be fully free and responsible for his character.

Recommended Citation

Morse, John DiBenedetto, "Reflection on the "good" as a source of freedom in virtue theory" (2003). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3093147.