Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

The Unity of Virtue*

John M. Coopera1

a1 Philosophy, Princeton University

Philosophers have recently revived the study of the ancient Greek topics of virtue and the virtues—justice, honesty, temperance, friendship, courage, and so on as qualities of mind and character belonging to individual people. But one issue at the center of Greek moral theory seems to have dropped out of consideration. This is the question of the unity of virtue, the unity of the virtues. Must anyone who has one of these qualities have others of them as well, indeed all of them—all the ones that really do deserve to be counted as virtues? Even further, is there really no set of distinct and separate virtuous qualities at all, but at bottom only a single one—so that the person who has this single condition of “virtue” (and only he) is entitled also to the further descriptions “honest” and “well-controlled” and “just” and “friendly” and “courageous” and “fostering” and “supportive,” and so on, as distinguishable aspects or immediate effects of his unitary “virtue”?


* I thank Christopher Bobonich and Panos Dimas for their helpful and interesting written comments on an earlier version of this essay.