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The virtues they needed to have : a brief history of the virtues from Homer to Hume, and how virtue enabled communities to survive and thrive


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Conway, RK 2005 , 'The virtues they needed to have : a brief history of the virtues from Homer to Hume, and how virtue enabled communities to survive and thrive', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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In the course of this thesis, I will argue that for more than two thousand years the
practice of virtue enabled the flourishing of communities and societies.
Undoubtedly, virtue was the transformational process that enabled individuals to
achieve certain highly desirable ends — such as happiness, pleasure or eternal life.
As well as caring for the self, virtue cultivated the care of others — stimulating
responsibility for family, friends and community and promoting their well-being.
However, virtue also transformed individuals into the sorts of people - heroes,
politicians, monks and so on - that societies and communities needed to survive or
flourish in the face of the social, cultural and political circumstances of the time —
and when communities flourished, so did individuals. This inextricable
interrelationship existed from the earliest times of Western civilization until some
point between the beginning of the Renaissance and the end of the Eighteenth
Century. Over these first four centuries or so of modernity, virtue gradually
ceased to be the only way of successfully living in a social group and became
merely one option, among many, from which individuals could choose.
I will argue that the changes we can observe in virtue and virtues over the history
were not due to fashion, arbitrary choices or moral errors. Virtues defined what
was valuable about a particular society — what communities valued in their
people; what people valued in their community; what people valued in themselves
and in others. Virtues often correlated to the leadership skills that were pertinent
to cultural, social and political circumstances. Traditional virtues were never
sacrosanct; they could be reinterpreted, mis-remembered or simply left in
abeyance until they were necessary again. The priority — or place in the hierarchy
— of particular virtues could shift depending on, for example, whether courage,
wisdom or love was most likely to lead to communal success.
This thesis raises a number of questions about the focus of contemporary virtue
theory on the character, choices and motivations of the individual moral agent,
and about the persistence of the notion that virtue should be universal for all times
and places. It concludes by examining a number of problems, misconceptions and
mistakes that are perpetuated by a lack of attention to the relationship between
virtue and societal or communal flourishing. After all, as social animals, we are
relational and as such, we continue, to create and sustain communities. By
expanding our focus on patterns found in individual character, reasoning and
emotions, to include patterns found in societal or communal flourishing, a new
understanding of twenty-first century virtue may develop.

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:Conway, RK
Keywords: Virtue, Virtue in literature
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2005 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (M.A.)--University of Tasmania, 2005.

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