“Dangerous Loyalties”

I wrote this back in mid-August, around the time when our reading group was reading Tessman’s Burdened Virtues. I was almost certain I’d posted it back then, but I can’t find it anywhere on the site, so at the risk of double-posting it, I figured I’d post it now.

Chapter 6 of Lisa Tessman’s Burdened Virtues, “Dangerous Loyalties,” discusses the dangers of the supposed virtue of loyalty. Loyalty as Tessman conceives of it is a qualified but unconditional attachment to a group, usually some species of “the oppressed,” along with a desire to promote that group’s ends and interests. The virtue’s demands are qualified in the sense that they apply within certain limits–to some groups rather than others, and permitting some degree of internal criticism rather than none. But they’re unconditional in the sense that within those limits, a loyal person’s allegiance to the group cannot be relinquished on pain of violating the demands of loyalty, and thereby inviting the charges of betrayal and treason. Continue reading

Virtue, Happiness, and the Greeks: Burdened Interpretations

tessman-burdenedI’m currently involved (along with some other members of the POT blog) in an online reading group on Lisa Tessman’s book Burdened Virtues, and while there’s a lot in the book that I admire, I want to grump here a bit about some of the things that Tessman says in ch. 3, which is where we currently are in the book. (The main focus of the book is on how to understand what Aristotelean-style virtue ethicists see, and what Tessman rather forlornly longs to see, as a harmonious and mutually reinforcing relationship between virtue and well-being, in the context of oppressive social structures that impose often devastating costs on those who attempt the sorts of resistance to oppression that virtue seems to require. That’s an interesting and important topic, but – be warned – I say virtually nothing about it in the present post.)

Despite the occasional perfunctory acknowledgment (e.g. at p. 62, n. 15) that views on which morality and flourishing can come apart were “quite thinkable within the ancient Greek context,” Tessman nevertheless persists in treating ancient and modern views as divided by some deep conceptual gap; hence she contrasts the “contemporary meaning of the word happiness” with the “ancient Greek understanding of … eudaimonia or flourishing” (p. 57), as though conceptions of eudaimonia centered on wealth or subjective pleasure or the amoral pursuit of power were alien to the ancient Greek context. But in fact the virtue-centered conception of eudaimonia common among philosophers in the broadly Socratic lineage (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics) seems by no means to have been automatically congenial to Greeks generally; indeed in Plato’s dialogues Socrates’ interlocutors often react with puzzlement or disbelief or even mockery to his insistence that morality and self-interest cannot come apart.

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