That "ought" does not imply "right": Why It Matters for Virtue Ethics

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Abstract

Virtue ethicists sometimes say that a right action is what a virtuous person would do, characteristically, in the circumstances. But some have objected recently that right action cannot be defined as what a virtuous person would do in the circumstances because there are circumstances in which a right action is possible but in which no virtuous person would be found. This objection moves from the premise that a given person ought to do an action that no virtuous person would do, to the conclusion that the action is a right action. I demon-strate that virtue ethicists distinguish "ought" from "right" and reject the assumption that "ought" implies "right." I then show how their rejection of that assumption blocks this "right but not virtuous" objection. I conclude by showing how the thesis that "ought" does not imply "right" can clarify a further dispute in virtue ethics regarding whether "ought" implies "can.".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-315
Number of pages17
JournalSouthern Journal of Philosophy
Volume46
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy

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