I argue that Hume's ethics can be characterized as a virtue ethics, by which I mean a view according to which character has priority over action and the principles governing action: virtuous character guides and constrains practical deliberation. In a traditional utilitarian or Kantian ethics, character is subordinate to practical deliberation: virtue is needed only to motivate virtuous action. I begin by outlining this approach in Aristotle's ethics, then draw relevant parallels to Hume. I argue that virtuous character in Aristotle is understood in terms of "self-love." A true self-lover enjoys most the exercise of the characteristic human powers of judging, choosing, deciding and deliberating. A virtuous agent's self-love enables sizing up practical situations properly and exhibiting the virtue called for by the situation. But if an agent's character is defective, the practical situation will be misapprehended and responded to improperly. I argue that though Hume claims moral judgments are the product of sympathy, they are actually the result of a complex process of practical reflection and deliberation. Although Hume writes as though anyone can be a judicious spectator, there is reason to think that persons of calm temperament, who enjoy deliberation and have a facility for it, are more likely to perform the corrections in sentiments that may be necessary. If this is so, an agent's character has priority over his or her practical deliberations.
I am interested in the general question of how to characterize Hume's ethics, in particular, in whether Hume can be seen to offer some version of a virtue ethics. Let me first explain what I take a virtue ethics to be. For a virtue ethics, the central question is: "What kind of perso...
... I follow the text of L. A. Selby-Bigge, 2nd ed., rev., ed. P. H. Nidditch, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1978.
(9) I shall be concerned only with the Nicomachean Ethics (cited as "EN"). I follow the translation of Terence Irwin, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, 1985.
(10) For a more detailed discussion of this interpretation of akrasia, see my "Aristotle on the Conflicts of the Soul: Toward an Understanding of Virtue Ethics", in A. Reath, B. Herman, and C. Korsgaard, eds. (note 4, above).
(11) I do not mean to deny here that the virtuous person engages in deliberation or that she has formed particular practical principles as a result of deliberation. Nor do I wish to deny that she deliberates properly, in contrast to her non-virtuous counterparts. I mean only to uncover the non-rational conditions that cause her and other agents' deliberations to be as they are.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.