Virtues, Perfectionism and Natural Law
European Journal of Legal Studies, 2010, 3, 1, 99-127, Comparing Law
MANGINI, Michele, Virtues, Perfectionism and Natural Law, European Journal of Legal Studies, 2010, 3, 1, 99-127, Comparing Law - https://hdl.handle.net/1814/15157
Retrieved from Cadmus, EUI Research Repository
Many contend that liberalism is weak from the point of view of value orientation, because it neglects that central part of human experience which is expressed by substantive ideas of the good, such as human flourishing, the good life, human goodness, and the like. This paper argues that there is a long tradition, in the Western culture, of a substantive view of human goodness revolving around the notion of ‘virtues’. This tradition is supportive of, and still belongs to, liberal political theory insofar as one accepts the assumption that the cultural (and especially the ethical) presuppositions of liberalism are (at least, partly) embodied in natural law. The work of ‘retrieval’ and analysis necessary to forward this argument will be founded on a few claims concerning the compatibility between the ethical core of the virtues and liberalism. The substantive proposal of human goodness that is put forward, named ‘agency goods perfectionism’, is an attempt at establishing some continuity between a morality based on the virtues, in agreement with the natural law tradition, and a political morality in which liberal pluralism is balanced by some degree of value orientation through ‘general and vague’ conceptions of the virtues. The argument is aimed at showing more overlap than what is usually accepted between, on one hand, a secular political theory such as liberalism and, on the other hand, a religiously inspired conception such as natural law. In order to defend this thesis, this paper challenges some competing substantive ethical theories, such as objective list theories and new natural law theory; which are also aimed at addressing the problem of value-orientation, but from a perspective that is threatening the fundamental liberal presupposition of freedom of choice. The inquiry will follow a sort of chronological path, starting with the revival of the ethics of virtues in the last decades. It will then tackle one of the most plausible contemporary theories of the good; namely, perfectionism. Besides, it will carefully consider classical natural law theory, whose ethical core is assumed to be a conception of the virtues that promises to dovetail nicely with a liberal type of perfectionism.
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Keyword(s): comparing law