Friday, January 4, 2013
Intelligent Virtue by Julia Annas
I am reading Intelligent Virtue, by Julia Annas. I gather from the review in the Times Literary Supplement and from the first chapter, that this is a forceful defense of the Aristotelian account of virtue. I am all ears.
Annas wants to press two points about virtue. One is that virtue can be understood in terms of what she calls the skill analogy. Virtue is learned in the same way as playing the harmonica is learned. I use the harmonica as an example only because it is the only musical instrument I have ever made progress on.
The second is that virtue is an essential component of happiness. Happiness is here understood in Aristotle’s sense of eudaimonia. This word, central to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, means literally “good spirited.” That is, blessed by good daimons. In ordinary Greek usage, it indicated a person for whom everything generally goes well. In Aristotle’s hands, it comes to mean a life that is good as a whole.
So a virtue is something that can be acquired by practice and that, as it is acquired, enables virtuous actions. A person learns to play a musical instrument and then can be counted upon to play it well when it is appropriate. A complete set of virtues makes for a person who is reliable and admirable and lives the best life that his or her circumstances allow.
I will keep posting as I read along.
On a very different topic, I see a big problem here for Barnes & Noble. I downloaded Annas’ book for about twenty dollars for my Kindle. B&N is offering it for $81.60 with no option to download it to a Nook. I love Barnes & Noble bookstores, but this makes me wonder whether they can possibly survive in the current market.