Volume 87, 2013
Aristotle Now and Then
Gregory R. Beabout
What Contemporary Virtue Ethics Might Learn from Aristotle’s Rhetoric
In this paper, I extend contemporary virtue ethics by pointing to a philosophical insight that emerges from Aristotle’s Rhetoric: technical mastery of a discipline or practice involves cultivating the virtue of practical wisdom. After reviewing features of Alasdair MacIntyre’s virtue ethics, I draw attention to specific virtues identified by MacIntyre while noting the relative absence of the virtue of practical wisdom in his discussion of social practices. I compare and contrast MacIntyre’s virtue ethics with that of Aristotle. Focusing on Aristotle’s Rhetoric, I show how Aristotle suggests that the virtue of practical wisdom is integral to technical mastery in the art of persuasive public speaking. I argue that Aristotle’s insight about the tight connection between practical wisdom and technical mastery is not limited to the art of rhetoric. Retrieving insights from Aristotle’s Rhetoric brings into focus ways in which the virtue of practical wisdom is requisite to technical mastery more generally.