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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 45, 2020

Charles K. FinkOrcid-ID
Pages 79-95

Acting with Good Intentions
Virtue Ethics and the Principle that Ought Implies Can

In Morals from Motives (2001), Michael Slote proposed an agent-based approach to virtue ethics in which the morality of an action derives solely from the agent’s motives. Among the many objections that have been raised against Slote’s account, this article addresses two problems associated with the Kantian principle that ought implies can. These are the problems of “deficient” and “inferior” motivation. These problems arise because people cannot freely choose their motives. We cannot always choose to act from good motives; nor can we always avoid acting from bad ones. Given this, Slote’s account implies that we sometimes cannot do what we ought to do, contrary to Kant’s principle. In this article, I propose an alternative agent-based account which, I argue, circumvents these problems. While people cannot choose their motives, they can choose their intentions. By characterizing virtuous action, as I do, in terms of good intentions rather than in terms of good motives, the conflict between what people can do and what they ought to do is resolved.

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