University Of Tasmania
whole_ConwayRobyneK2005_thesis.pdf (11.03 MB)

The virtues they needed to have : a brief history of the virtues from Homer to Hume, and how virtue enabled communities to survive and thrive

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posted on 2023-05-26, 23:48 authored by Conway, RK
In the course of this thesis, I will argue that for more than two thousand years the practice of virtue enabled the flourishing of communities and societies. Undoubtedly, virtue was the transformational process that enabled individuals to achieve certain highly desirable ends ‚ÄövÑvÆ such as happiness, pleasure or eternal life. As well as caring for the self, virtue cultivated the care of others ‚ÄövÑvÆ stimulating responsibility for family, friends and community and promoting their well-being. However, virtue also transformed individuals into the sorts of people - heroes, politicians, monks and so on - that societies and communities needed to survive or flourish in the face of the social, cultural and political circumstances of the time ‚ÄövÑvÆ and when communities flourished, so did individuals. This inextricable interrelationship existed from the earliest times of Western civilization until some point between the beginning of the Renaissance and the end of the Eighteenth Century. Over these first four centuries or so of modernity, virtue gradually ceased to be the only way of successfully living in a social group and became merely one option, among many, from which individuals could choose. I will argue that the changes we can observe in virtue and virtues over the history were not due to fashion, arbitrary choices or moral errors. Virtues defined what was valuable about a particular society ‚ÄövÑvÆ what communities valued in their people; what people valued in their community; what people valued in themselves and in others. Virtues often correlated to the leadership skills that were pertinent to cultural, social and political circumstances. Traditional virtues were never sacrosanct; they could be reinterpreted, mis-remembered or simply left in abeyance until they were necessary again. The priority ‚ÄövÑvÆ or place in the hierarchy ‚ÄövÑvÆ of particular virtues could shift depending on, for example, whether courage, wisdom or love was most likely to lead to communal success. This thesis raises a number of questions about the focus of contemporary virtue theory on the character, choices and motivations of the individual moral agent, and about the persistence of the notion that virtue should be universal for all times and places. It concludes by examining a number of problems, misconceptions and mistakes that are perpetuated by a lack of attention to the relationship between virtue and societal or communal flourishing. After all, as social animals, we are relational and as such, we continue, to create and sustain communities. By expanding our focus on patterns found in individual character, reasoning and emotions, to include patterns found in societal or communal flourishing, a new understanding of twenty-first century virtue may develop.


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Copyright 2005 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (M.A.)--University of Tasmania, 2005.

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