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Normativity and Aristotelian virtue ethics: an evaluation and reconciliation

By Susan K. Allard-Nelson


In recent decades, Aristotelian virtue ethics has reemerged as an alternative to deduction-based moral theories. Yet, Aristotelian virtue ethics has often been conceived by its proponents as well as its detractors, as an approach to ethical thinking that is neither normative in nature nor capable of being formulated in normative terms.\ud \ud In this thesis, I argue that the fundamental elements of Aristotelian virtue ethics, examined and modified in light of modern thinking, provide the basis for a systematized, normative ethical theory. I further argue that such a theory can be grounded in induction, rather than deduction, and that it can fully acknowledge and incorporate the ethical significance of particulars, particular relationships, and human experience. I suggest that an induction-informed normative theory not only avoids such logical pitfalls as Hume's "is-ought" objection and concerns pertaining to the truth-value of moral claims, but also that it provides an accurate account of our moral and non-moral experience, as well as of their areas of intersection. I propose methods for evaluating the acceptability of general guidelines and singular moral judgements, and I argue that these methods can be successfully achieved within, and enhanced by, the framework of Aristotelian virtue ethics.\ud \ud I examine various aspects of moral theory in general and Aristotelian virtue ethics in particular (e.g. principles and guidelines, human nature and telos, virtue, partially and universalizability), and argue for their place within and relationship to an induction-informed normative moral theory. I reply to criticisms levelled against Aristotelian ethical theory and, in so doing, argue that Aristotle's classification of arete as a dunamis in the Rhetoric has significant implications for moral theory, argue for the claims and obligations generated by particular relationships, and reevaluate the role of the phronimos. I review the logical and practical implications of an inductive model, and suggest not only that such a model is more consistent and more practicable than are current deduction-based normative theories, but also that it calls into question our standard conceptualization of normativity. In closing, I suggest a reexamination of "normativity" in terms of the function of normative theory

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