Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Virtue Analysis

I have a number of ongoing 'experiments' (more like 'long-term observations out of curiosity) in my classes, and one of them is for when I teach Ethics (which is about one or two classes a year at present). I have some small writing assignments related to utilitarianism, virtue ethics, etc., and the virtue ethics assignment is an 800-1000 word virtue analysis of some virtue of their choice. So I had it again this term, and as I did last time, I thought I'd tally the virtues that were chosen. I had intended to tweak the assignment a bit to reduce the chance of their falling prey to the complications of theological virtues, and to encourage a bit more exploration beyond the cardinal virtues themselves, but for various reasons I didn't have a chance to rework the assignment this time around, so it's exactly the same one as the one described in the above post. Setting aside stragglers and people who turned in their assignments in bizarre or ancient formats that I haven't had a chance to uncrack yet, the virtues chosen have been:

Temperance (3)
Fortitude (2)
Honesty (2)
Patience (2)
Love / Charity (2)
Justice
Prudence
Hope
Silence
Contentedness
Generosity

Not as adventuresome a class as last time, but the creativity of the 'silence' one pleased me quite a bit, I must say: I really try to make clear the Aristotelian points that our moral vocabularies are always very poor in comparison with the richness of moral character, and that one of the corollaries of the golden mean is that there are lots and lots of virtues and vices for which we have no convenient name, such as those associated with holding one's tongue, and that one of the strengths of the doctrine of the mean is that it can itself be used as a way to discover these unnamed virtues and vices.

Some of the analyses were very good this time around; as I mentioned last time, I find the high quality that one sometimes gets from assignments like this as proof for my longstanding contention that you should always structure assignments in ways that give them room to surprise you. Not everyone will, of course; but there are usually a handful who do.

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