Philosophy Today


published on October 11, 2017

Matthew Sharpe

Camus and the Virtues (with and beyond Sherman)

Albert Camus can be meaningfully read as an agent-focussed virtue ethicist, as David Sherman has suggested. Yet moving far beyond Sherman’s version of this claim, we show here how Camus accepts what are four definitive parameters of the classical authors’ conception of the virtues—the last of which takes him beyond today’s recognised “virtue ethicists.” Firstly, he understands the virtues as lasting, beneficent dispositions to think, feel, and act in certain ways. Secondly, he conceives the virtues as mastering the untethered passions: the sources of epistemic partiality and behavioural excess (démesure). Thirdly Camus conceives of the virtues (led by his versions of the four cardinals: courage, mesure, justice and a directive “lucidity”) as necessary accomplishments if people are to live fulfilled lives. Finally—and here bidding farewell to a solely theoretical approach—Camus appreciates that such self-mastery can only be achieved through education and habituation (an “ascesis” or “a difficult science of living”), and through the imitation of the kind of exemplars he holds up before us in his literary fiction.