Here are some essays that I’m working on now. If you have any suggestions or questions, I’m interested in your thoughts. (But please don’t cite them). You may email me at: micah.lott@bc.edu.

Situationism, Skill, and the Rarity of Virtue

Abstract: According to one plausible interpretation, recent evidence from psychological research  shows that possession of the Aristotelian virtues is very rare. Does the rarity of the virtues pose any theoretical problems for Aristotelian virtue ethics, or can virtue ethicists accept rarity while leaving their moral theory intact? Critics such as John Doris and Stephen Stich argue that a virtue ethics that embraces rarity must lose its main “competitive advantage” over other moral theories, and that rarity also leaves little role for virtue in a program of moral education. And in his recent book Character as Moral Fiction, Mark Alfano describes the Rarity Thesis as an unsatisfying “dodge” made by virtue ethicists, which requires sacrificing several components of the hard core of virtue ethics. In this paper, I consider these criticisms and I show why they are misguided. In order to do this, I first consider a series of parallels between our evaluations of virtue and our evaluations of skill, or craft. These parallels provide useful conceptual materials for assessing the significance of rarity for virtue ethics, and for demonstrating that rarity, as such, poses no theoretical problems for virtue ethics. This paper is thus both a contribution to the growing discussion of virtue’s relation to skill, and an attempt to show how that discussion can fruitfully inform the continuing debate about character, situations, and empirical psychology.

Because I Said So: Practical Authority in Plato’s Crito

This essay is an analysis of the central arguments in Plato’s Crito. I show how the dialogue presents a variety of ways in which the speech of another person can have practical relevance in one’s deliberations about what to do – e.g. as an argument, as a bit of expert advice, as a threat. Especially important among these forms of practical relevance is authoritative command.  In the dialogue, the Laws of Athens argue that Socrates must accept his sentence of death, because he must regard the verdict of the court as an authoritative command from a practical authority (=the city). I examine the arguments of the Laws, and I show how they rely on the special “pre-emptive” nature of authority-reasons. I also show why the Law’s arguments are unsuccessful, and what this reveals about the nature of practical authority, and the necessary conditions for democratic political rule.

 

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