By William Ransome
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However, her benevolent motivation does tell her one thing at least to do: ‘she morally ought (would be wrong not) to find out more about her mother’s condition and prospects, as regards quality and duration of life and certainty as regards future suffering and incapacity’ (2001, 40). To try to decide what to do in a state of ignorance would exhibit a callous disregard for her mother rather than benevolent motivation. Her benevolent state tells her to find out the facts before she acts, by doubling back on the world.
According to Slote, this ought not to seem strange. After all, benevolence has primary moral worth. It is her own state that is fundamentally morally at stake, and how she actually treats others is only of derivative moral worth. The benevolent treatment of others is secondary. On the other hand, if she were not to see moral primacy in her own character, like S, would she really possess benevolence? She would not, according to Slote’s view. In thinking that trying to bring about others’ well-being is morally important independent of her own state of character, S’s moral values are in the wrong place.
The relevant moral principles or rules precisely individuate each virtue in deontic terms. This seems to suggest that the appropriate overarching value theory for an account of the virtues is deontic: ultimately, a virtue is ethically admirable due to the principle or rule to which it answers. But a virtue theorist can insist that there are other ways of individuating a virtue. On one rendering, it is that state of character we find admirable about someone in such-and-such a way. For instance, honesty is the praiseworthy state of character related to truth-telling (as exemplified by X), or benevolence is the praiseworthy state of character related to desiring the good of others (as exemplified by Y).