HFIK03871U  FILO, Module 3. Philosophy in Context: Citizenship between Virtue Theory and Political Thought

Volume 2018/2019

Kandidatuddannelsen i Filosofi, 2017-ordningen



This MA course is of interest to MA students from Philosophy, but also to students outside the field of philosophy such as other humanistic disciplines involving ethics and political thought; psychology, dealing with the motivations that drive individuals in smaller or larger groups; political science, focusing on the citizen both as a moral person, and agent, as well as a member of a civic community; organization theory, where modern theorists revive ancient ideas about the moral person and his or her character and its significance to the community within which he or she is situated; and theology, where contemporary theologians discuss if and how ancient virtue ethics can be revived as a viable position within theology. In addition, the course is also open to BA students. Course participation and exam do not require knowledge of ancient Greek.


What is virtue theory?

Briefly stated, it is an ethical theory that puts emphasis on the character of the person, since this character is regarded as crucial to the person’s actions and their ethical value. Virtue theory is one of three dominant positions within ethical theory, the two others being consequentialism and deontology: these two last-mentioned emphasise the actions of the moral agent, not the person or the character of the agent. Consequentialism and deontology have dominated ethical theory over the last one or two hundred centuries, but these positions have faced criticism, partly because they fail to explain what motivates a moral agent to carry out good actions. What is the point of an ethical argument, critics ask, if the agents are not motivated to carry out the ethically right action?


Virtue theory has its origins in ancient Greek philosophy, and the most elaborate form was the one formulated by Aristotle in his Ethics. It provides a moral psychology that offers something that has been missing in consequentialism and deontology, namely an account of those factors that motivate a moral agent to carry out good actions. One of the earliest modern moral philosophers to revive the Aristotelian virtue ethics was Elisabeth Anscombe in her article from 1958 (‘Modern Moral Philosophy’), arguing that consequentialism and deontology had failed to consider the need to account for the moral psychology assisting moral action. Later on, several other moral philosophers followed suit and returned to Aristotle’s Ethics: Alasdair MacIntyre, Philippa Foot, Rosemary Hursthouse and many others. Over the last years modern moral philosophers such as Gisela Striker have built on this work and explored the possibility to apply virtue theory to communities such as larger organisations and society. In this course you will get a solid knowledge about Aristotle’s Ethics, and this will work as a foundation for another discussion in this course, namely the various uses of his virtue theory in modern moral philosophy. The first part of the course is dedicated to Aristotelian virtue ethics and its revival in modern moral theory.


What is political thought and how does it connect with virtue theory?

The citizen can be regarded as an individual endowed with a moral character. However, the same citizen can also be regarded as a member of a community. In Aristotle’s Politics, a human being is by nature a social being and it thrives best as a human being in a community. The moral character of a human being is, still according to Aristotle, decisively shaped by the culture of the community in which he or she lives, for which reason his moral philosophy, focused on the individual’s moral character, is intimately connected with his political philosophy, focused on various forms of political organization and leadership. The context of Aristotle’s political analysis was the Greek city-state (polis), which was much smaller than the modern national state, and in some cases similar in size to modern organisations. In this course, the ancient democratic Athens serve as the context within which we discuss this link between virtue theory and political though, and we shall relate it to modern communities where it may be relevant.


Who are involved in the course?

The first part of the course, dedicated to Aristotle’s Ethics, will be taught by associate professor Leo Catana. In this part, there will be two guest lecturers. The first is associate professor Anne Marie Søndergaard from SDU, who will introduce modern virtue ethics as understood by MacIntyre and other modern moral philosophers, who have revived Aristotle’s virtue ethics over the last decades. The second guest lecturer is Jens Schmidt, who is currently Head of Research Centre for Government IT, IT University of Copenhagen, and who has been part of the leadership team at NOKIA, Finland. In this course, he will talk about the relevance of Aristotelian theories about virtue and friendship (‘network’, as it is often called today) in such large organizations.

The second part of the course, dedicated to Aristotle’s Politics, will be conducted by cand. mag. Esben Rasmussen, who has translated Aristotle’s Politics into Danish (forthcoming this year) and published internationally on this work of Aristotle.


Which books should I acquire before the course?

There are two important works by Aristotle which you should purchase before the course begins, both translated by C. D. C. Reeve and published in 2017: (1) Aristotle, Nicomachean ethics, Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, English translation and commentary by C. D. C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2014. (2) Aristotle, Politics: A New Translation, English translation and commentary by C. D. C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2017. These two works by Aristotle were intended to be read together, and it is an advantage to read them in English translations made by the same translator, because that it ensures a high degree of terminological consistency.


Further bibliographical information will be given later.

Learning Outcome

Kandidatuddannelsen i Filosofi, 2017-ordningen:

Modul 3: Filosofi i kontekst: HFIK03871E  

There are two important works by Aristotle which you should purchase before the course begins: Aristotle, Nicomachean ethics, translation, introduction, and commentaary by Sarah Broadie and Christopher Rowe. Oxford University Press, 2002. Aristotle, Politics, introduction, translation and commentary by C. D. C. Reeve. Hackett: 1998. Further bibliographical information will be given later.

Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assesment
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 353,5
  • Total
  • 409,5