Kant’s Virtue as Strength

In: Frontiers of Philosophy in China
LIU Jing
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The revival of virtue ethics has been accompanied by an increasing interest in Kant’s theory of virtue. Many scholars claim that virtue plays an important role in Kant’s moral theory. However, some worries and disagreements have arisen within the camp of contemporary virtue ethics concerning the Kantian concept of virtue. Some scholars have pointed out that Kantian virtue is at best nothing more than Aristotelian continence, that is, strength of will in the face of contrary emotions and appetites, and hence not a real virtue. In response to these criticisms and worries concerning Kant’s concept of virtue, this paper examines the question of whether Kant’s account of virtue is only a reformulation of Aristotle’s idea of continence. My analysis focuses on Kant’s concept of inner freedom, his ideas about latitude in the imperfect duties of virtue, and his notion of the perfection of virtue. I thus attempt to provide some evidence of the significant differences between Aristotelian continence and Kant’s virtue as strength. Then I explore the significance of Kant’s virtue as strength. Finally, I argue that Kant’s virtue as strength not only is not Aristotle’s idea of continence but also is located at a much higher level, that is, the state of inner freedom and the mental attitude of a human being’s soul.

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