Practical unintelligence and the vices

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


At the southwest entrance to the campus of Wichita State University stands the Wichita Arch, a sculpture by Andrew Goldsworthy. The arch is an impressive 14 feet high and 22 feet wide, and is made of 74,000 pounds of Flint Hills limestone. The arch's most curious feature, though, is an elm tree that Goldsworthy planted directly beneath the keystone, where it will grow and interact with the arch above in ways that will become clear only with time. So far, the elm's branches have grown around the arch rather than into it – so far. Someday the sculpture may be a jumble of blocks around a fine and undaunted elm; anyway, someday we'll know. For me, the arch is a microcosm, of a world of interactions so complex and developments so unforeseeable that what our choices actually are will become clear only with time. Ignorance, uncertainty, risk: that is our situation, and virtue in action is for making the best of it. But how does virtue make the best of it, in such a non-ideal world as this, a world in which we must build our arches and await what elms may grow? The stock reply is, “Virtuous people make the best of a non-ideal world by aspiring to the ideal of virtue as far as they can, even if they can never reach it.” But then the question is, “can” at what cost? Ideal virtuous persons will always know more than any real virtuous persons, but sometimes the cost for real persons of eliminating their ignorance is greater than the value to them of the knowledge that would replace it. In other words, sometimes it is rational to remain ignorant, and so, ideally, one would not aspire to the ideal. So, how does virtue make the best of a world like that? This chapter is about what virtue looks like when ignorance is rational – or rather, it is about what vice looks like when ignorance is rational but deliberation fails to correct for the fact that one is acting in ignorance. In trying to understand what that sort of vice is, I start from a view of wise deliberation we find in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEvil in Aristotle
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781316676813
ISBN (Print)9781107161979
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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