The article argues that a consideration of the idea, common in ancient ethical theory, that virtue is a skill or craft, reveals that some common construals of it are mistaken. The analogy between virtue and skill is not meant to suggest that virtue is an unreflective habit of practised action. Rather what interests ancient ethical theorists is the intellectual structure of a skill, one demanding grasp of the principles defining the field and an ability to reflect on the justification of particular actions. This is brought out with reference particularly to the discussion of virtue as analogous with skill in Plato’s early Socratic dialogues. The demands made of the virtuous agent by philosophers who regard virtue as analogous to skill are akin to the demands made by more recent theories of morality which demand that the moral agent be able to reflect on her practices, extract the principles that these depend on, and produce justification when needed. This point about ancient ethical theories enables us to appreciate their distance from modern versions of ' ‘virtue ethics’ - which stress the importance of the traditions and contexts within which the content of the virtues is learned, and place less importance on the need for intellectual justification. The type of virtue ethics defended by Alasdair MacIntyre provides an instructive example of this contrasting kind of theory.
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