Suffering and Virtue.Michael Brady (University of Glasgow)
G16 (Jim Potter Room)
Old Physics Building
Common sense, or at least philosophical tradition, associates virtue with pleasure. Here, for instance, is what Aristotle says about the matter, in a famous passage from the Nicomachean Ethics: “Now virtuous actions are noble and done for the sake of the noble. Therefore the liberal man, like other virtuous men, will give for the sake of the noble, and rightly; for he will give to the right people, the right amounts, and at the right time, with all the other qualifications that accompany right giving; and that too with pleasure or without pain; for that which is virtuous is pleasant or free from pain – least of all will it be painful.” Virtue, on this view, seems to be incompatible with pain and suffering.
My aim in this paper is to argue against this Aristotelian position. For I don’t merely think that virtue is compatible with suffering, in the sense that an individual’s virtue can co-exist with or occur in the presence of their suffering. Instead, I want to argue that forms of suffering can themselves constitute virtuous motives. In short: suffering can be virtuous, in much the same way that compassion, benevolence, and courage can be virtuous. I make my case by focusing on two different kinds of suffering: pain as an instance of physical suffering, and remorse an instance of emotional suffering. I argue that the respective kinds of suffering are essential for the proper functioning of systems governing damage avoidance and reparations for wrongdoing, and as a result constitute virtues of those systems.
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