Philosophy's Spring Seminar Series: "A New (and Very Old) Approach to Virtue Ethics: In Socrates' Footsteps" by Paul Woodruff, University of Texas

Join us in Room EWFM 625 for a group viewing, or on Zoom

Abstract: The Socratic approach to ethics is superior (I argue) to the Aristotelian one adopted by most virtue ethicists. Aristotelian virtues are supposed to be robust character traits, whereas Socratic virtues at the human level must be projects to which I should be committed in the lifelong activity of caring for my soul’s moral health. I must never think I safely have a virtue, but continue to question myself and others. Unlike Aristotelian ethics, Socratic ethics asks me to change my life, value justice over happiness, and examine myself all my life. In making moral decisions, I should use a kind of judgment that is not limited by theory. I should promote virtue also in my community. So far I can follow Socrates, but I must go beyond him—for example, by defending democracy. I must also work out how to live toward virtue without being able to say definitively what virtue is. I should not cultivate virtue-like qualities that are easily defined, such as fearlessness, because they cannot be virtues. I call them “doubles” of the virtues. But I should try to approach genuine virtues such as courage, no matter how elusive they are.

About: Paul Woodruff has been teaching in philosophy and classics at the University of Texas at Austin since 1973. He holds degrees from Princeton and Oxford. He has written books on justice as a virtue (The Ajax Dilemma 2011) and on reverence (Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue, 2d ed. 2014).  His First Democracy (2005) lays out the virtues of society on which democracy depended in the ancient world. His interest in practical ethics grows out of his experiences as a military officer in a combat zone in Vietnam, 1969-70. He has published translations of works by Plato, Thucydides, Sophocles, and Euripides.


End Date: 
Tuesday, April 19, 2022 - 18:30