Virtue Ethics & Core Values

Jeffrey R. Tiel

Ashland University

213 Arts & Humanities

Ashland, OH 44805




In recent years there has been increased discussion of virtue ethics and its potential value to the United States Military. Since work done by ancient virtue ethicists such as Aristotle on virtues like courage appear to have special application to the character of servicemen, it might seem that the virtue ethics approach to moral theory and moral character development is promising. However, there are some serious deficiencies in this approach, deficiencies that threaten to leave our military men and women entirely without a moral compass. In this essay I will identify these deficiencies, offer a careful critique that delimits the value of virtue approaches, and then take the primary strengths of virtue theories and address the potential relationship that the Army's core values have to traditional virtues.


Some of the attractiveness that virtue theories enjoy is due to a misunderstanding of rival moral theories. Advocates of virtue ethics sometimes offer self-characterizations that make them appear to offer advantages that are in fact shared by rival, sophisticated moral theories. For example, some virtue theories tell us to habituate rule following, because we want to develop character, or an internalization of the rules, a goal which is allegedly unique to the virtue theory. But in fact this is hardly different from many rule-emphasis theories, for they too would emphasize the importance of habituating oneself to the rules so that in time-sensitive situations, for example, one's prior experience would make a moral decision relatively easier. Once we commit ourselves to a particular kind of moral action, once we have habituated ourselves to choosing it, we typically find that it becomes relatively easy to follow. But this realization is not solely the property of virtue ethics; rule-based ethical systems too seek habituation of rules for the formation of character.


As another example, consider that virtue theories often suggest that long lists of rules are impractical and that there is great simplicity or moral economy in offering a virtue-imperative. We might be told that "Love your wife!" requires much more of us than "Don't commit adultery, and spend time talking with your wife, and take your wife out on dates from time to time", etc., suggesting that typical rule-based theories simply cannot capture the full force of a virtue-imperative. But it is hardly clear that the virtue-theorist has done much more in cases like this than offer a shorthand way to easily refer to a large range of rules and experiences that guide our lives. The virtue of Love covers a wide range of imperatives, so that telling someone to love his wife refers to a host of action-imperatives. Just as we will use an intuitive concept like "controlling the center" in chess, a principle that has perhaps a great many applications and was gleaned from many experiences, so we can appeal to virtue-imperatives like "Be patient!" "Live Friendly!" "Be Courageous!" as a short-hand way to capture a large number of rules. Thus, again, virtue ethics may initially appear to have advantages that closer reflection reveals to be unwarranted. A rule-based system could easily employ the same language.


At some point virtue ethics do part company with their rivals, typically classified as rule-based, rule-following, or action-imperative systems. Generally, rule-based theories offer a formula or calculus for determining what an appropriate course of action is given a certain situation. They often offer a general principle such as Kant's categorical imperative or Mill's utilitarian principle that can be applied to actions or descriptions of actions in an effort to decide their moral standing.


Mill tells us that those actions are moral which maximize happiness and minimize harm for the greatest number. So, if you are contemplating a particular action, such as misleading an IRS agent, but are not sure whether your decision is a moral one, you could readily employ Mill's principle by asking whether deceiving the IRS agent would in fact promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number. (And after the most recent Congressional review of the IRS, we may be inclined to change our previous answers!)


Kant's principle works a bit differently, by asking us to generate a universal principle, one applicable to all persons, which he calls a "maxim," from our proposed action. So, if we are contemplating lying to the IRS agent, Kant would ask us to generate a universal maxim such as "Deliberately telling falsehoods is permissible in order to prevent detection of some illegal activity." Then we would take that maxim and determine its truth by means of his Categorical Imperative. The imperative asks us to determine whether the maxim can really be universally applied. In other words if everyone told falsehoods to avoid detection, would the action of lying even be possible? And the answer is no, of course, since if everyone lied in these situations, no one would ever believe anyone else, making truth-telling, and thus lying, a practical impossibility. Therefore, Kant would tell us that lying is wrong.


Virtue ethics, on the other hand, wishes to avoid all such moral calculi for the determination of correct action. Virtue theorists emphasize the admitted difficulties of employing these formulae together with the suggestion that we ought to abandon them in favor of their alternative systems. We ought instead, we are told, to concentrate on the kinds of persons we ought to be, rather than the particular actions we should take. Since persons of appropriate moral character do good deeds, we would save ourselves the headaches of having to employ theories as complicated as the Kantian one I just described, especially if those theories do not often offer us very convincing results.


But for all his talk about virtues, it seems transparent that the virtue theorist is a bit short on patience. Rome wasn't built in a day, and complicated moral problems, which philosophers perhaps spend too much time constructing, require a great deal of careful examination in order to provide convincing solutions.1 So, just because the rule-follower cannot employ Kant's or Mill's systems instantly to provide us with an answer does not entail that no answer exists. And it surely should not suggest that we just abandon the effort to find one.


But the virtue theorist will reply in two ways: first, he will try to show us that rule-following systems are open to more objections than that they are difficult to employ. And on this he is correct. And second, he will tell us that virtue ethics makes the whole task of living a moral life a good deal simpler and quite intuitive. Let us confront this second response. Trying to answer the first would require a full-scale philosophical defense of the rule-following systems--too much to do here. Suffice it to say that the debates over Kant's and Mill's moral systems will likely continue for some time. But we can make a great deal of headway by asking whether the virtue theories actually work as well as they’re touted. If not, if virtue ethics does not offer the quick moral fix it suggests, then perhaps recommending that we return to the difficult work of actually solving these moral problems with a principled system will not seem so impractical.



The Problem of Virtue Ethics


The virtue ethicist suggests that his theory avoids the complicated tasks of using a formula to figure out what we ought to do, by instead focusing on the kinds of persons we ought to be. The trouble lies in determining just how we know what kinds of persons we ought to be. Or, we might put it this way: how are we to determine just what the virtues are? Obviously, if we do not know what the virtues are, then telling people to "Live virtuously!" becomes an empty imperative. So, if we ask the virtue ethicist what the virtues are, what will he tell us?


Virtue theorists answer this question in at least five different ways. First, some virtue theorists suggest that we will know what the virtues are, we will know what the good life is, i.e., by asking a good man. Surely, the good man will know what the good life is. At one point Aristotle suggests this solution. The trouble here is that this assumes that we already know who the good man is. What if we do not? How are we to tell which man is good? The answer, "Find the virtuous man" wraps us into a circle: to know what is good, we must ask a good man, but to find a good man, we must already know what is good. So, this answer will not suffice.


Second, some virtue theorists suggest instead that we can determine what the virtues are by figuring out what the excellent human life is, i.e., by determining what human flourishing is. Once we know what it means to be the best human being possible, then the virtues are whatever character traits enable us to live at the heights of excellence. At another point Aristotle suggests this theory too. However, identifying the "flourishing life" is itself a major task.2 And if we look very closely at the notion of a "flourishing life," we will find that instead of helping us determine what the virtues are, it actually begs the question, since the flourishing life already contains value judgments. The very idea of a flourishing life is a normative concept, i.e., it assumes a certain set of standards such that living one's life one way is flourishing while living it another way is not. But that of course was the original question: what are the standards by which we ought to live our lives? The virtue ethicist told us that we could avoid this question by focusing on the kinds of persons we ought to be. And when we asked him how we tell what kinds of persons we ought to be, he told us to live in accordance with the virtues. But when we ask what the virtues are, we are told that we can determine that by appealing to this notion of a flourishing life--only it turns out that the flourishing life assumes a set of values, a set of standards already! So, appealing to the flourishing life only returns us to the original question: which moral standards should we adopt? And that is called begging the question.


It is also worth noting that appeals to some general concept like "flourishing" open the virtue ethicist up to semantic-relativism difficulties. In other words, what if what I mean by "flourishing" differs fundamentally from what you mean by it? Or, to apply the problem directly to the virtues, what if you and I differ in our accounts of courage, or patience, or justice? It is fairly easy to show that some of these notions have changed over time. Which virtue-candidate is the real virtue? Whose account of flourishing is the right one? If the virtue theorist answers that he does not know, then moral skepticism prevails. If he appeals to a principle of adjudication to tell us which meanings of the virtues are correct, something like "those virtue-candidates which promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number are genuine," then he will have succeeded only in returning to some version of the traditional moral calculi he has allegedly rejected. And finally, if he claims that there need not be a "correct" account of flourishing at all, then he opens the door to moral relativism.


Third, to avoid the difficulties associated with appealing to the flourishing life, last year Tony Pfaff introduced a new idea. He proposed the term "special virtues." Special virtues, he said, are those character traits necessary for completing a certain kind of task. Carpenters, e.g., need patience as they work with the wood; they also need care, as they work the material. Teachers also need certain virtues to be effective. Teachers too must be patient; they must be just and honest as they award grades; they must love their subject matter, if they expect to motivate their students. The special virtues then, are the character traits necessary for completing the particular task well. What it means to complete it well is defined from within the particular discipline, thus avoiding all the trouble of appeals to a general and ambiguous notion like the "flourishing" life.


Pfaff proceeded to use this notion of special virtues in the military disciplines. What, he asked, are the character traits necessary to be a good officer, to be a good military leader? The answer to this question will depend on what the military's mission is, and once this is determined (an easier task, he thought, than the flourishing life problem), we can look at those who succeed in that mission and identify what character traits they possess. Then we will have our virtues.


Though this is a very clever solution to the problem, it nevertheless runs into one major difficulty. Let me introduce the difficulty by asking you what might be the character traits necessary for some other disciplines or tasks, disciplines or tasks that might not be as noble as the carpenter, the teacher, or the warrior. What, e.g., are the character traits necessary for being a good assassin? Alternatively, what are the character traits necessary for being a good serial killer? Surely, some serial killers and some assassins are very successful, and we could examine their character traits to determine what contributes to this success--the FBI already has done this. But would we then say that these character traits are virtues? You see, Pfaff is cleverly trading off the term "good" when I spoke of a "good" serial killer and using that term to shift from talking about efficiency to talking about moral excellence. Just because one is efficient at a task does not mean that he is a morally worthy human being! So, what Pfaff has done in fact is replaced our original moral question, "How do I live a good life?" with a technical or skill question "How do I be a good X?" where X can be replaced by whatever discipline you happen to choose in life. But that those questions are not identical should be clear from that fact that being the best assassin possible in no wise entails that I am a good person. Thus, technical goodness, or discipline excellence, is not identical to moral goodness, or moral excellence. Therefore, Pfaff's use of special virtues actually does nothing more than change the subject. He is no longer even talking about morality, but rather has shifted to discussing being "good" at certain kinds of crafts or disciplines. And so, what he calls virtues are virtues not because his theory proves that they are, but because we antecedently, for reasons wholly distinct from his theory, were already predisposed to say that courage, a character trait necessary for a warrior, is a moral virtue. But Pfaff's theory does not prove this--he only uses what we would already have granted. Why then do we think that courage is a virtue? Because the set of things that courageous people do already conform to the moral rule principles that the virtue theorist has overtly rejected, but in fact continue to inform his moral expectations.


There are still two other ways that the virtue theorist might try to determine what the virtues are. Fourth, he might simply appeal to a formula like the categorical imperative or the utilitarian calculus. On this theory, he might argue that if we want to know what character traits are the moral ones, we just ask which ones maximize happiness and minimize harm for the greatest number. But this answer, while not open to any fatal objection like the last three, only returns the virtue theorist to the very rule-based theories he tried to resist earlier. On this account virtue ethics just collapses into the rule-based systems.


That brings us to a final way in which the virtue theorist might try to determine what the virtues are. Pfaff hinted at this in his paper last year too, when he suggested that habituated rule-following does more than give us good character. It also develops within us a faculty for perceiving moral truths. In other words, the good man can tell what to do in a morally complicated situation, because his habits not only internalize the rules but also give him a special ability to know what is morally appropriate independent of any rational calculus like Kant's or Mill's. You might call this a form of moral intuitionism: a special faculty of moral intuition develops within a good man. This may seem plausible, since you might notice in your own life that doing what is right not only makes doing what is right in the future easier, but it also seems to make it easier to figure out what is the right thing to do.


There is a problem with this view however. Let me illustrate it by proposing a situation where two men, both claiming to be good and even both habituating the usual moral rules to this point diverge in what they claim is the solution to an acute moral problem, a problem that our current rules do not cover. What are we to do? How do we adjudicate moral conflicts like this? Both men will appeal to their "moral intuition," but then we will wonder just what this moral intuition is supposed to be. We cannot test it after all. The virtue theorist has ruled this out by rejecting our moral formulae. Without a formula to evaluate what the men say, we have nothing but their word. But this amounts to a kind of moral mysticism. The allegedly good man just "knows" what is the right thing to do, and the novice must simply accept his dictates without any means to test them. I think this view is not only wrong, but dangerous, since it leaves young people susceptible to manipulation. And not only does it fail to guarantee that the intuited results will be virtues, but by removing any kind of rational foundation upon which the results can be grounded, it would set our servicemen adrift in an amoral sea.



The Contribution of Virtue Theory


What then can virtue theory contribute? Virtue theorists have noticed a couple things about human experience that are well worth noting. In the first place, they have understood the need to distinguish good people from legalists. Just because someone follows rules does not mean he is a good person. Good people act from proper motives, and they desire the good life. But theories like utilitarianism tell us next to nothing about how to form these motives and desires. Of course, they were never meant to do this, so this is a bit of a straw man criticism; they were only designed to tell us what the good life is, not to motivate us to want it.


But motivating people to desire goodness, to internalize it as I mentioned earlier, is very much within the interest of educators like ourselves. And the virtue theorists at least talk about this important subject. Virtue theorists like St. Thomas Aquinas noticed long ago that the world works in a funny way. When we do things that are good, even when we do not much want to, the very act of doing the good thing often alters our desires so that by the end of the action, we begin to form an attraction to it--i.e., the good action is its own reward.


I remember when I entered married life and first gazed at the pile of dishes that needed washing. I definitely felt that I did not want to wash them. In fact I thought it would surely be quite nice if my wife did wash them. But then I thought that I really ought to wash them, and in spite of my desire, I did what I wished not to do. But once I made that decision and started washing the dishes, I found myself morally satisfied, even though the activity itself was not particularly pleasant. So, it seems that doing good deeds, even grudgingly, can often produce within us a kind of satisfaction that is worth more than certain pleasures.


Similarly, in moral action, we can internalize moral principles simply by doing the morally good deed and through the action itself come to understand its value and begin to desire it. This fact which virtue theorists have highlighted has significant consequences for military educators in particular, since the military would like its officers both to perform morally and to desire to do so. Kant and Mill have little to say on the question of motivating one to want to follow the good. So, perhaps virtue ethics, properly circumscribed, can have value.


What then is the proper limitation on virtue theory? We must distinguish moral epistemology from moral psychology and moral anthropology. How we determine what the moral action or value is belongs to the theory of knowledge. And as we have seen, when virtue theorists stray into this area, they wind up with bizarre theories that either beg the question, collapse into their rivals, or even endorse moral mysticism or relativism. Thus, virtue theory has nothing to contribute to moral epistemology. And if that is true, then virtue theorists should

stop contrasting themselves with moral epistemologists like Kant and Mill, since they offer no viable means for determining what the appropriate moral principles are.


On the other hand, virtue theory offers a great deal to moral psychology and moral anthropology--it tells us how we in fact learn moral principles. This means that virtue ethics is less a normative theory of what we ought to do than a descriptive account of the limits and capabilities of human beings. If humans are creatures that tend toward habituation, then moral educators would do well to heed this fact in developing a moral curriculum. But it also raises questions about whether calling virtue theories "ethics" is even appropriate. Since virtue theories fail to offer defensible moral norms that are distinguishable from their normative rivals, virtue theories are not really ethical theories at all. It would be better for us to call them virtue psychologies or virtue anthropologies. Of course, this is not likely to happen, since the language has already attracted a following and since virtue theories can contribute a great deal to our understanding of ethical persons even if they can contribute nothing to ethical epistemic theory.



Ethics and Education


This brings us finally to the question of what contribution virtue theories might make to the moral aspects of military officer education, and to the recent focus on "core values" in the Army. And it would be valuable for us to quickly dispense with the behaviorist criticism of these approaches. The behaviorist (I am using the term rather loosely) suggests that the military is ultimately concerned only with the behavior of servicemen. On this view when ordered to do something, a soldier should do it. His desires, motives, or virtues really do not matter. Behavior, rules, and behavior-modification strategies should be the proper domain for military "moral" education. Advocates of this theory would also appeal to the importance of the freedom of conscience; what a person believes is not the military's business--only how he acts.


The problem for the behaviorist is that he cannot modify behavior without modifying the mind, especially if he expects the results of the modification to work in high stress environments like combat. So, claims of the value of freedom of conscience notwithstanding, no behavior-modification can succeed without infringing on it to some degree. And if military education cannot succeed without behavior-modification, then it follows that some freedom of conscience must be sacrificed.


But there is yet another problem for the behaviorist approach. Even if we admit that we want servicemen to act in a particular way, traditionally the ideal of the American Officer includes more than behavior. It also includes being a certain kind of person, i.e., thinking a certain way, valuing certain objects, and desiring certain things. We want officers who really believe that their unit is more important than their own lives, e.g., so that in the heat of combat, they will perform as a unit and not run away. George Washington never ceased to complain about the ineffectiveness of colonial militia, since their lack of military discipline (i.e., appropriate military training) led them almost always to rout in the face of British advances. Every militiaman loved his country, but he had never learned to identify his own survival with that of his unit. Combat training and experience make one think in terms of unit cohesion. For this reason combat veterans almost unanimously describe their actions as being primarily not for God, not for country, not for loved ones, but for the other members of their units. But motivating people to think like this requires experience and modification therapies that alter not only the behaviors, but also the desires and values of the participants.


So, we must reject the behaviorist who would like us to abandon all talk of value-altering strategies in favor of purely action-focused training. George Washington, John Paul Jones, Robert E. Lee, and Dwight Eisenhower were men of a particular character, not just behavior. We admire them because of their character--we recognize that it is worth emulating. And so we desire to offer a military officer education system that endorses the importance of character development.


How then can we construct such an officer education system? As I hinted earlier, I think that we need to distinguish skills from virtues. Skills are habits that form merely from repeated action. If you take apart and put together an M-16 enough times, you will get better at the activity (assuming a modest degree of intelligence.). Thus, if you wish to train people to learn this activity, you run them through the exercise until they learn it. Similarly, if you want to train a soldier to shoot accurately, you drill him in the practice of marksmanship until he improves. Improvement (to some degree) is very nearly a necessity just from the repetition of the action. Thus, skill-development occurs through habituation, and that habituation can be trained.


However, this same approach of repetitious training is employed in other military contexts, namely academic education and virtue education. Yet it is not clear to me that this approach can succeed in either context. I wish to argue that in any context in which freedom is a necessary condition for developing the habit, repetitive training cannot succeed. For in such cases we shift from talking about skills to talking about virtues. And virtues, while they can be mimicked by legalistic behavior, cannot be created in others. Long ago Socrates argued that he was not responsible for the moral education of his followers, since he did not claim to be able to teach virtues. And while this is a highly controversial question, especially in military circles, I think that he was right.


Why then would I distinguish virtues from skills by saying that the former are habits that can be developed only by the free choices of the participant? I think we can see this clearer by shifting momentarily to a religious rather than a military model. One of the most difficult problems for religious practitioners is the tendency for their moral code to become a legalistic observance that breeds only cynicism and bitterness. This is especially true of those who grew up in a religious atmosphere. Young religious people almost universally ask, "But what makes it real?" The answer no doubt has something to do with God, but it also involves their own active participation in the religious rite, a participation that cannot be prompted by a desire to please parents or friends or anything else except an internal commitment to faith. In other words, unless a free commitment is made, there is no true religion.


Similarly, in moral education, we can instruct young people in the appropriate moral patterns, we can live perfect examples of the moral virtues, and we can reward good and penalize evil, but nonetheless, until these young people choose the virtues for themselves, they do not develop genuine goodness. They may be able to mimic the moral actions and parrot the right words, but we should not deceive ourselves into thinking that this is equivalent to good character. The yearlings at West Point are quite good at this: they say the right things and conduct themselves in accordance with the honor, action, and character codes, but it is almost universally acknowledged that a surprising number of yearlings tend to be cynical.3 And when you ask the yearlings themselves why this is so, they typically answer that they have realized that West Point is not an institution which genuinely transforms character but instead only severely regulates action.4 And as St. Paul pointed out long ago, Law does not make one moral, but in fact reveals failure. Moral codes can even enchant the forbidden rather than motivate repulsion.


So, living in accordance with a moral code (even assuming it is completely correct) does not in fact habituate the virtues. It habituates the skills to act as if one were moral. But if it is the case that virtues require freely chosen commitments, then skill-training cannot produce virtues. The internalization of a moral habit requires the cadet to choose for himself to adopt the moral code. By the time our cadets become cows and firsties, some of them have begun to do this--this is part of what we mean by maturity. And yet some of my colleagues in the English Department at West Point who had themselves been cadets reported that they did not begin to personally embrace the military virtues until they had actually entered the regular Army. They said that West Point was an artificial atmosphere that made it very difficult to become virtuous. Why? Because there is so little opportunity to choose the good as an end in itself--i.e., freely.


Only by choosing to be moral for no other reason than that it is the right thing to do can a young person begin the process of freely habituating the virtue. If he chooses the right thing, but that choice is attended by rewards or threats, or perhaps is graded by an instructor, or perhaps is viewed by his friends, then as Jesus said so long ago, "He has his reward." In other words, religious and military education environments tend to make it nearly impossible for their young people to freely choose virtuous activity, since every kind of action is legislated and every individual act is graded, evaluated, and noted. Thus, the opportunity to choose moral action for its own sake, for oneself, evaporates.


I was actually rather surprised in coming to West Point to see the differences between the Cadets who were produced by the highly vaunted Cadet Leadership Development System and my senior philosophy students at Vanderbilt. I noted that while the cadets would outshine any of my former students at leadership skills, my former students seemed significantly more morally mature. They had been forced to make decisions for which there was no authority overseeing their choice. They had to decide about alcohol, drugs, and sex when no authority could or would likely find out about their choices. They had to decide about honesty, truth, and integrity in an atmosphere where there was an honor code, but it was not grounded in the kind of legal apparatus and Jesuitical delineations that have grown up at West Point in order to precisely regulate every kind of offense. While some of my former students may have made the wrong choices, it was clear that they had freely chosen them, a freedom that produced within them definite virtues or vices, i.e., moral responsibility.


My worry for the application of virtue theories to the core values at a military academy like West Point is that they will become codified in an attempt to grind them into the cadets as a form of skill-training. And then the new language and benefits of virtues will fail to make any significant impact on the moral development of cadets. Only by offering the cadets moral freedom can we expect them to make genuine moral decisions, decisions which when repeatedly chosen result in good character. And what must be recognized is that unlike rappelling or shooting skills for which some improvement is guaranteed through repetition, there is no guarantee possible in moral education. Socrates was right; we cannot teach virtue. We can motivate it, we can explain it, we can live it, but we cannot force another free creature to embrace it. In fact, as many parents discover, attempting to force morality can in fact drive children to reject it.


This raises one final issue: in my earlier dishwashing example, I discovered something good in an activity that I particularly hated. So, is it not possible that my dishwashing experience could act as a counter-example to my thesis? Might forced participation in charities enlighten a great many young people? I do not think so, since in my example though I did not recognize the moral joy of sacrificing my own desires for those of the family, and though I wanted my own pleasure more than the frustration of washing dishes, I nevertheless freely chose to wash those dishes. And the moral satisfaction I experienced resulted from that free choice. If my wife had come out and ordered me to wash the dishes or else she would deprive me sexually for a week, then I might have still chosen to wash the dishes, but the morality of my action would have been compromised, and its ability to develop within me the virtue of self-sacrifice would have been undermined.





In conclusion we must critically evaluate the potential contribution of virtue theories of ethics. Insofar as they purport to replace traditional moral epistemologies like Kantian deontology or Mill's utility theory, they will fail miserably and likely lead straight into the abyss of moral relativism or moral mysticism. Difficulties with the traditional theories must be patiently engaged--we do our students a great disservice by suggesting their abandonment. On the other hand, we must recognize virtue theories for connecting psychological and anthropological insights with the acquisition of the good life, namely that the good life requires more than behaviors that satisfy a moral code, since such behavior can be legalistically appropriate but not morally valuable. And insofar as we wish to adopt the insights of virtue theories into our military education planning, it is critical that we recognize the inherent limits on moral education--namely that there is no guarantee that it will succeed. Virtues are moral habits that require repeated free commitments. When moral actions are repeatedly freely chosen, they become more desirable and easier. Only by freely submitting ourselves to the moral truth can we perfect the virtues. In this way and in this way alone can a man be born.




1. This assumes that genuine moral dilemmas do not exist, but if they do, it is not clear how virtue theorist would be better placed to deal with them.


2. Any value theory that tries to ground itself in an account of the kinds of beings we are, a theory that in effect grounds ethics in metaphysics, immediately runs into the problem of competing metaphysical systems, all of which could generate an alternative moral system. Aristotle's definition of human beings as rational animals yields the ethical imperative to actualize our rationality. But what if human beings are not essentially rational animals? What if as Kant thought, we are essentially rationally free creatures? Then we would arrive at a moral system with the Categorical Imperative. But what if Kant is wrong and Nietzsche is right? What if the will to power is that which makes men essentially human? Then the pursuit of power becomes the moral good? Or, if the existentialists are correct that there are no essential attributes of human beings, that they are in effect free to create their own values, then the greatest moral good becomes self-defined meaning.

3. The problem of cynical sophomores does not plague military institutions alone, but the specific attempts to combat these attitudes with regulation and discipline tends to be found only in military and religious institutions.

4. There may be good reasons to ensure military discipline by severe regulation, but my point here is simply that we should not confuse submission to discipline with character development.