Date of Award

Spring 2003

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Snow, Nancy

Second Advisor

Starr, William

Third Advisor

Gibson, Kevin


As the title indicates, Reflection on the "Good" as a Source of Freedom in Virtue Theory, is an examination of the problem of freedom within the context of virtue theory. The dissertation is an amalgamation, of the two areas of philosophy in which I have the greatest interest, virtue theory and the question of free will. An ethical theory must offer an adequate account of moral responsibility in order to be viable. Once I began to study virtue theory in depth, especially with the communitarian emphasis of contemporary virtue theory, I realized the potential for conflict between a communitarian interpretation of virtue theory and an explanation of individual responsibility. Since I was committed both to the belief that virtue theory is the philosophically strongest moral theory and to the belief that a human being is responsible for the person he becomes and is responsible for what he does, I was motivated to find a potential solution to this problem. Simply stated, if it is the case that individual moral development through behavior and value reinforcement is so closely tied to community, then virtue theory must explain how it is the case that the individual remains free and responsible for his character and the actions that follow from that character. In order to find a resolution to the tension between a communitarian virtue ethics and individual responsibility, I draw on both historical and contemporary sources in the area of virtue theory, as well as contemporary arguments in the area of moral responsibility. After addressing some potential objections to the existence of the virtues and the role of community in moral development, the dissertation first examines the link between virtue and action in virtue theory, drawing on Aristotle and contemporary writers in the field of virtue theory. Then, I highlight the role of community in moral education, paying special attention to how writers in virtue theory (both ancient and contemporary) acknowledge the deep impact of the community in habit and value development in the individual. The dissertation proceeds with the resolution in the tension between a communitarian virtue theory and individual responsibility from three distinct areas, the writings of Aristotle, within the work of contemporary virtue theory, and finally in the field of contemporary moral responsibility. Ultimately, the purpose of this dissertation is to argue that virtue theory, even with a communitarian emphasis, can establish an account of individual freedom, which has not yet been fully articulated. The solution that is derived through each of these various fields has a common focus that the individual must have the ability to change his character through the use of reflection about bis character in light of some standard. This approach provides an initial resolution to this complex problem, but I argue that it neglects a fundamental insight that is at the center of virtue theory. Not only does an individual rely on bis community for behavior reinforcement, but the community also has a significant impact on the standard by which an individual assesses his character. Further, the ability to reflect is rooted in possessing a set of traits and skills that are not innate, but must be developed through practice. Thus, virtue theory must look beyond reflection about the individual's character in order to have an adequate theory of responsibility. I argue that a communitarian virtue theory must also argue that the community must emphasize the virtues associated with being able to sincerely and critically examine the source of values that drives the process of reflection.



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