December 7, 2011

The Virtue Paradox

Filed under: Ethics,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 11:30 pm

How could a slothful person ever become disciplined? Wouldn’t successfully resisting slothfulness require the virtue of discipline? It seems that many virtue-vice relationships presuppose this sort of paradoxical situation: resisting some vice requires possessing its opposing virtue. But if one already possesses the opposing virtue, did one really ever possess the vice? Maybe talk of degrees is necessary, or perhaps it is possible to possess some vice and its opposing virtue simultaneously.



  1. There’s a difference between resisting and overcoming. Discipline can help one overcome many things, but it is not required to overcome anything, especially when one becomes a Christian. That’s when speaking in absolutes. Which is where you started. But like C.S. Lewis, I believe that virtue and vice co-exist and that every time we make a right choice we grow in virtue and diminish in vice (my words for his idea applied to your question).

    Comment by Christian Penrod — December 8, 2011 @ 11:37 am | Reply

  2. One way is to construe virtues and vices as *dispositions*. A glass may thus possess the disposition to shatter in certain circumstances and be stable in others. This construal would be better than viewing virtues and vices as *categorical*.

    Comment by Paul M. — December 11, 2011 @ 10:08 pm | Reply

  3. Maybe there are higher-order virtues and vices, and resisting or strengthening a virtue/vice involves the higher-order version of that virtue/vice. Resisting first-order slothfulness involves second-order discipline; resisting second-order slothfulness involves third-order discipline and so forth. This way we can say that someone is totally slothful, but they still have a chance at become discipline. The fact that they are totally slothful derives from their first-order slothfulness, but their chance at becoming disciplined comes from the fact that their second-order slothfulness is not complete. Then, perhaps we have a potentially infinite orders of virtues and vices. I’m mostly being facetious, but it is fun to think about.

    Comment by C. Gibbs — December 13, 2011 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

  4. It does seem like ridding one’s self from certain vices involves some high-access requirements. I posed a similar problem to Moreland after a class. How does the procrastinator break the habit, surely she’ll “start working on it tomorrow”? He suggested accountability and the aid of another to help one get over the hump.

    Comment by Chris — December 15, 2011 @ 12:37 am | Reply

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