Since I have already outed myself as a deontologist, it may seem odd for me to be focusing on virtue for a blog post. However, as I mentioned in “New Logo”, the brutalism of a mere prohibition against violating the NAP creates an impoverished ethical framework by which one should live one's life. Even if I'm not murdering, coercing, or stealing from people, I am not likely to achieve happiness (take your pick of any of the, like, eight Greek words that have different flavors) if I am not pursuing some form of human excellence. Even a hedonist is really pursuing ataraxia (which is something akin to contentedness or tranquility), even if they are unaware of it.
One of the fundamental precepts of both virtue ethics and teleology is the assumption that one will be most happy when pursuing or achieving their end (telos). This assumption is awfully intuitive, and modern psychology seems to be providing pseudo-empirical evidence to bolster such an assumption, so I am reasonably confident in universalizing my own experience of such things. Of course, this virtue ethics/teleology requires a lot more exploration before one can just say “being good will make you happy”, obviously.
For example, one's telos could be anything. For the last two-and-a-half millenia, lots of stupid people and a few smart people have argued about this very subject. I'm planning on contributing to this mess (and hopefully helping sort some of it out) in my 95 Theses, those chapters are much longer than I could expect someone to read as a blog post or listen to as a podcast, so I'll have to be brief here.
Aristotle, and anyone who has Aristotelian influences, argues that one's telos is primarily knowable and possibly even determined by one's attributes. I say “attributes”, because it is the most philosophically vague term; each philosopher since Aristotle has tried to pin telos to a different aspect of a creature's being, but they are all related in some way or another to the faculties/functions/attributes/essences of the creature in question. I'm no exception to this accusation. I argue that there are higher-order and lower-order teloi, the higher-order relating to the categorical nature of a thing and the lower-order relating to the specific nature of the thing. A simple example of these things would be that of a hammer; a hammer's higher-order telos (categorical nature) is to hit things, however, a hammer can be a ball-peen, rubber, claw, sledge... each of which hit in a particular way, are designed to hit a particular material, or have additional functions which do not impede their utility as hitting instruments.
In a similar way, there ought to be higher-order, human teloi and lower-order individual teloi. A relatively less-controversial example of a human telos would be the necessity for growth (mental/physical/spiritual/whatever). An equally less-controversial example of a specific telos would be that of a naturally-gifted doctor; one could have the natural disposition and skill to care for others' bodies and derive happiness from the pursuit of such, but not every human would be “called” to be a doctor. Just like the case of the hammer, one's specific teloi can't come into conflict with their categorical teloi, by virtue of the ontological relationship between one's essence and existence. In the case of the doctor, caring for others' (and one's own) bodies can lend itself to one's growth and, if pursued appropriately, will even aid in such a pursuit.
In this way, one can establish both a Aristotelian list of virtues which ought to apply to all men and a much more subjective and individualistic list of virtues associated with specific teloi. I wish to reserve the actual list-writing for later (time and space constraints for today's post), but one can start composing such a list on their own. I would love to discuss such lists with people outside the blog, either in the comments below, via email, or on facebook. These discussions will help revise both the lists themselves as well as the theory we are using to compile the lists. What I want to do here is explore the specific nature of virtue, especially as relates to morality, ethics, and honor.
Virtue, defined as a habit, has quite a lot of baggage associated with it, but what matters for this discussion is to merely define “habit” as a “propensity for particular types of action”. Much like vices are habit-forming, virtues are as well. These habits often contribute to one's productivity, epistemic rectitude, security/self-sufficiency, humanity, etc. At a minimum, though, they contribute to one's character in a manner consistent with virtue ethics, existentialism, and a number of other ethical frameworks.
Where morality is a relationship between action and deontological proscriptions, ethics is a series of prescriptions predicated on individual value judgments and an understanding of how the world operates; I explored this in “Morality and Ethics”. Therefore, virtues are an element of ethics, in general. If one values ataraxia, an understanding of virtue would lead them to conclude that developing a habit of temperance (not the puritanical bastardization, but rather the actual meaning of “enough of all things”) will help one achieve ataraxia. If one values eudaemonia, an understanding of virtue would lead one to pursue industriousness or discipline. If one values apatheia, an understanding of virtue would lead one to pursue epistemic rectitude and objectivity.
How does one pursue such virtues? For fear of being branded an Aristotelian, I'd have to say “Fake it 'till you make it.” A praxeologist will tell you that a virtue is expressed in demonstrated preference, and I will tell you that demonstrated preference is, in fact, how one forms preferences in general. Performing an act that is virtuous (practicing one's art without external motivation is a disciplined action) aids one in forming that particular virtue; doing so consistently will ingrain the habit of doing such... which is the act of possessing that particular virtue. So, if I wish to be magnanimous, I ought to determine what behaviors are magnanimous and do them until such a point in time that it would require effort to refrain from performing those actions. Nietzsche, G.E.M. Anscombe, and Alasdair MacIntyre each have their own particular flavors of virtue ethics, and I recommend that interested readers pursue their works in order to come to a greater understanding of the specifics.
In the mean time, though, I believe that virtue can aid in a great many limit-cases when discussing anarchist morality and ethics. Remember, anarchism is a philosophy of personal responsibility. I have been accused by several people of “wanting to live in a world totally devoid of rules, like some sort of nihilist” and “wanting to live in a world in which I exist alone in the wilderness, like some sort of solipsist”; how a regular reader of this blog could come to that conclusion is beyond me. I may wish to live in a world devoid of crime, AKA a world with no laws and will do what I can to pursue a lifestyle in accordance with such, but the very nature or reality is that of rules; “If I drop this, it will fall,” “If you want to stay alive, you shouldn't pick fights with people better armed and practiced than you,” and every if-then statement in-between demonstrate this reality. Additionally, if one were to live a solitary existence, they would likely have their time wholly consumed with mere survival and asceticism, rather than a more common teloi, such as that of a profession or of philosophy.
What virtues allow for is reduced friction and uncertainty in an otherwise brutalist reality: in all reality, if something doesn't violate the deontological proscription against crime, it is morally justified. I may be more interested in living amongst others who pursue and express christian eudaemonic virtues, as opposed to mere brutalists. Conversely, I may wish to live amongst brutalists and be spared the social repercussions of being a libertine amongst Christians. What these virtues allow for is the sort of self-selection mentioned in my post on mereology. Additionally, when one is faced with a limit-case, such as Nazis at your door asking if you are hiding Jews, witnessing a mother (in an anarchist society) abusing her children, abortion in all of it's controversies, or cases of extreme discrimination, an understanding of virtue can inform one's actions in such a circumstance. Of course, one cannot produce a categorical moral statement concerning some limit cases (if one witnesses a crime in progress, one does not have a moral obligation to intercede), but one's own pursuit of virtue may encourage action (courage, honor, etc. would encourage one to intercede).
TL;DR: Virtue is primarily an ethical principle, much like its inverse: vice. It is a principle which dictates “If one wishes to achieve happiness (in whatever form), one ought to engender a habit of X.” This is because a virtue is best defined as “a habit of action which aids one in pursuit of one's telos (or end)”, and intuition and modern psychology suggest that pursuit of one's telos is a primary source of happiness for individuals. There exist virtues that are categorically applicable to all humans, and other virtues that apply to individuals, contingent upon their own unique construction. Virtues, while not necessarily necessary, are certainly useful in helping individuals pursue happiness and lubricating the gears of “society”.