Friday, January 11, 2013

Virtues & "The Right Sort of Description"

"Ordinary language is not a philosopher.
     "We might, however, set out from an ordinary language situation by reflecting upon the virtues. The concepts of the virtues and the familiar words which name them, are important since they help to make certain potentially nebulous areas of experience more open to inspection. If we reflect upon the nature of the virtues we are constantly led to consider their relation to each other. The idea of an 'order' of virtues suggests itself, although it might of course be difficult to state this in any systematic form. For instance, if we reflect upon courage and ask why we think it to be a virtue, what kind of courage is the highest, what distinguishes courage from rashness, ferocity, self-assertion, and so on, we are bound, in our explanation, to use the names of other virtues. The best kind of courage (that which would make a man act unselfishly in a concentration camp) is steadfast, calm, temperate, intelligent, loving.... This may not in fact be exactly the right description, but it is the right sort of description."

     --Iris Murdoch, from "On 'God' and 'Good'" in The Sovereignty of Good, p. 56 (Routledge, 2001)

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