Mark Alfano (ed.)
Current Controversies in Virtue Theory
Mark Alfano (ed.), Current Controversies in Virtue Theory, Routledge, 2015, 161pp., $39.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780415658218.
Reviewed by Rebecca L. Walker, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In this book, Mark Alfano collects the perspectives of ten philosophers (including himself) on five questions in virtue theory: What is virtue? Does virtue contribute to flourishing? How are ethical and epistemic virtues related? How are virtues acquired? Can people be virtuous? The volume offers different and (to varying extents) competing perspectives on each general topic. The volume as a whole presents an interesting and helpful tour through various debates considered by Alfano to be on the cutting edge of virtue theory. By focusing on virtue theory rather than virtue ethics, the volume is able to expand its reach to issues in virtue epistemology as well as questions about virtue within deontological and utilitarian moral frameworks. Despite the different questions officially at play, the last four contributions address in some way the ‘situationist’ critique of virtue (and vice) based on empirical studies of behavior. Specifically, that the degree to which human behavior can be manipulated by morally (or epistemologically) irrelevant modifications of a subject’s situation is inconsistent with usual theoretical doctrine about virtues and vices as traits of character.
In what follows, I will briefly discuss each debate as it occurs, homing in on particular exchanges that I found intriguing. First, however, two general remarks may be helpful for the reader. The first concerns the audience aim for the volume, which is somewhat unclear. As an introductory text useable in an undergraduate course the contributions by Nancy E. Snow and Heather Battaly, among others, are exemplary. They locate historical and philosophical trends that bear on their topic and address their issues in a way that does not rely on previous knowledge of virtue theory. At the other extreme, the contribution by Ernest Sosa, in his exchange with Jason Baehr, addresses his topic several levels into the debate and focuses initially on interpretive issues with less in the way of orienting examples and context. This exchange seems primarily of interest to those already engaged in the relevant ongoing debates within virtue epistemology. Second, the chapters vary significantly in the extent to which each author engages the views of the other chapter contributor. As the rationale for the volume relies on the fruitful nature of pairwise philosophical exchanges, it seems important to consider more intentionally the authors’ particular modes of engagement. Continue reading