04 April 2011

Instruments of Virtue and Vice, Part II

To the second objection, I reply that while many, if not all, poietic products are ultimately ordered to some variety of genuine human flourishing in accord with virtuous habit, this does not render evil use entirely repugnant to them.  There is nothing mysterious or unusual about such lack of repugnance: our hands and feet, after all, are on Aristoteleanism also ultimately ordered to virtue-enabled human flourishing, but we can quite obviously use them in ways contrary to such flourishing, such as theft.  Note also that in so using our hands and feet, we do not use them for the sake of any end opposed to their respective specific functions, viz. manipulation and locomotion, though we do use them in a manner opposed to their ultimate telos, which is eudaimonia.  This point will become important in our examination of the first objection, to which we now turn.

Thus turning, the first objection complains, as stated in the previous post, that some poietic products are of such a kind as to exclude any vicious (mis)use; for example, a thank-you card seems only to admit of use in the service of the virtue of gratitude.  Two varieties of reply, as Dr. Müller observes, present themselves to a defender of the Neutral-Product Thesis.  The first and more manifest reply notes that a thank-you card can obviously be used in an almost infinite number of ways that viciously avoid exercising the virtue of gratitude: it might, for example, be used as scratch paper in planning a robbery, or burned in order to set fire to a man's home.  These counterexamples, however, are, as Dr. Müller remarks, of limited value, not least of all because they render the Neutral-Product Thesis significantly less philosophically interesting than it first appears, for they express only the banal point that, for any given material object, a wide array of unusual purposes can be invented.  Such a reply belongs more properly to the realm of sophistry than of philosophy, refusing as it does to substantively engage the Neutral-Product Thesis.

A more promising line of thought hinges on the observation that such a seemingly intrinsically virtue-oriented poietic product as a thank-you card can be put to vicious use even with regard to its intended specific function: a man, to use Dr. Müller's example, might use a thank you card to express his thanks for receiving from his friend what he knew to be a stolen bike.  Such a variety of thanks would, I take it, constitute some species of injustice, or at any rate something in that area.  (Dr. Müller claims that Aristotle gives a fuller explanation of why doing so would be vicious, but he neglects to cite a particular passage, and I have not the inclination to ferret out the passage myself itself for a blog post that few people will actually read.)  In light of this reply, we may now reformulate the Neutral-Product Thesis more precisely: no poietic product is such that the exercise of its specific function or purpose must be virtuous as opposed to vicious.  This rendering allows the original Thesis to retain much of its substantiveness, while also avoiding a seemingly fatal objection.

In the next post, I'll state my question pertaining to the Thesis, as well as a short defence of my answer.

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