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University of Waikato • Hamilton, New Zealand

29 September - 1 October 2017


Conference Programme:

All sessions to be held in J3.26 History Seminar Room.

All tea times to be held in J3.15 the Philosophy Tea Room.

Friday, 29 September 2017

10.30AM  - 11.45AM

Virtue Ethics and Other-Directed Moral Judgments [abstract]

Liezl van Zyl (University of Waikato)

11.45AM - 1.30PM: Lunch at The Lakes, University of Waikato

1.30PM - 2.45PM

The Action Guiding Objection from the Client's Point of View [abstract]

Tim Dare (University of Auckland) 

2.45PM - 3.15PM: Afternoon Tea

3.15PM - 4.30PM

The Good Doctor: Conscientious Objection or Virtue [abstract]

Jeanette Kennett (Macquarie University)

6.15 PM: Dinner

Location: Basil Thai Kitchen 

Saturday, 30 September 2017


10.30AM  - 11.45AM

Virtue Ethics and Narrative Virtue [abstract]

Christine Swanton (University of Auckland) 

11.45AM - 1.30PM: Lunch at Hamilton Gardens Café

1.30PM - 2.45PM

On the Value of Moral Failure [abstract]

Damian Cox (Bond University)

2.45PM - 3.15PM: Afternoon Tea

3.15PM - 4.30PM

Narrative Virtues and Second-Order Reasons [abstract]

Garrett Cullity (University of Adelaide)

6.15 PM: Dinner

Location: Gothenburg Restaurant

Sunday, 1 October 2017

10.30AM  - 11.45AM

How Does Virtue Guide Action? [abstract]

Richard Hamilton (University of Notre Dame [Australia])

11.45AM - 1.30PM: Lunch at Hayes Common 

1.30PM - 2.45PM

The Mystery Machine: Mystery, Understanding, and Action-Causation in Narratives and Virtues [abstract]

David Lumsden & Joseph Ulatowski (University of Waikato)

2.45PM - 3.15PM: Afternoon Tea

3.15PM - 4.30PM

Virtue, Disposition, and the Ability to Do Otherwise [abstract]

Ramon Das (Victoria University of Wellington)

If you have any comments or questions, contact Joe Ulatowski: or Liezl van Zyl:


On the Value of Moral Failure

Damian Cox

Moral success is sometimes born out of moral failure; and it is possible that a moral success arising in this way is of such great significance that it exceeds moral successes available to the agent without the failure. If Oscar Schindler had not joined the National Socialists and had not made valuable contacts within it, it is unlikely – we could imagine, impossible – that he would have been able to save so many lives. In retrospective judgement, one should be thankful for failures of this kind as well as recognising them as moral failures worthy of remorse. In this paper, I explore this
phenomenon. I do so by contrasting two models of moral self-assessment: a forensic model, in which good and bad actions are tallied in some way; and a narrative-based model. I use the film Le Fils (2004) by the Dardenne Brothers as my principal case-study.



Narrative Virtues and Second-Order Reasons

Garrett Cullity

A fruitful way to understand virtues is by thinking of them as dispositions to respond well to the reasons we have. On this “reasons-responsiveness” view of virtues, we can understand the relationship between different virtues by reference to the relationship between the reasons to which they respond. This paper starts by noticing that our
reasons belong to different orders, and draws on this to explain an important difference between the ways in which virtues are connected to narratives. The fact that another person is needy, and the fact that I’ve made a promise, are first-order reasons – reasons to help the needy person, and to keep the promise. There are many such reasons; I cannot respond to all of them; and often, none of these first-order reasons is decisive. Now suppose I do help the needy person. That fact is also a reason: a second-order reason, since it is a fact about my having previously responded
to a first-order reason. This can have two kinds of importance for how I think and act in future. My having helped the person has created a relationship between us; and that relationship can provide me with further reasons bearing on my future actions. Loyalty is our name for the virtue of responding well to the history of a relationship of special connection. Secondly, my previous actions have given my life the distinctive shape it has had up until now. It has been shaped by the choices I have made in responding to some reasons rather than others. Facts about the choices I have
previously made can also now provide me with second-order reasons. One of the virtues we can use “integrity” to refer to is the virtue of responding well to these reasons. Virtues such as loyalty and integrity, then, are narrative virtues, in this sense: as forms of responsiveness to second-order reasons, they are responses to and extensions of a narrative. As a result of this, life gets in one way more complicated as you get older, but in another it gets simpler. It gets more complicated because you acquire further second-order reasons; but it gets simpler because they can, at least sometimes, provide you with a clearer path forward. To the extent that this is illuminating, it helps to vindicate the assumption from which I start: the assumption that virtues are good forms of reasons-responsiveness.


The Action Guiding Objection from the Client's Point of View

Tim Dare

There seems to be a consensus that the action-guiding objection to virtue ethics has been answered.  I’m interested in whether the answer has focused on the capacity of virtue ethics tell an agent what they should do rather than on its capacity to tell one agent what another (virtuous) agent will do.  The third person point of view is important in professional ethics.  Clients are entitled to know what their lawyers (doctors, etc) will do in hard cases.  If virtue ethics is to be a plausible professional ethics it has to be able to guide professionals in ways that are reliable and transparent to their clients.



Virtue, Disposition, and the Ability to Do Otherwise

Ramon Das



How Does Virtue Guide Action?

Richard Hamilton

Whether or not Virtue Ethics should have allowed itself to get dragged into the “theories of right action” racket, the die is set and virtue ethicists have busied themselves over the past decade constructing ever more elaborate theories of right action. They are all, however, beset by a problem: both 'virtue' and 'right action' are what W.B. Gallie (1955) called “essentially contested concepts”. An essentially contested concept is one which generally has a core meaning about which there is broad consensus but which in application generates many potentially irresolvable disputes. As I have argued (Hamilton 2006 & Hamilton 2009) essentially contested concepts are such precisely because of the role they play in our moral disagreements. Put simply where we have massive disagreement we are unlikely to settle their application. So to determine what a case of right action might be can never be a morally neutral act and thus the concepts involved will be essentially contested. The same goes for virtue. Virtuous action is occasion sensitive. It is not simply to do the right thing simpliciter but always to do the right thing in the right manner at the right time and towards the right person..... ( Aristotle NE 1104 a9).04 a9NE 1104 a9)

Given this I suggest a different approach. Rather than attempting to respond to the charge that virtue ethics is not action guiding we should focus on the sort of action guidance we are looking for. Most virtue ethicists are agreed that the idea that moral theory is in the business of providing algorithmic decision procedures is folly. The way in which virtue provides action guidance is analogous to what David Solomon (1988) has called a “fitness regime”. An athletes does not learn a series of recipes to apply in any and all situations but rather develops a series of general capacities which she must then learn to exercise in a given situation.

In this paper I will argue that it is the combination of the contested nature of virtue talk and the occasion sensitivity of right action which makes a one-size-fits-all approach to action guidance so hopeless. Paradoxically, despite the vehemence with which this criticism is advanced, virtue ethics is best suited to providing guidance on how to act well if we understand action guidance correctly.



The Good Doctor: Conscientious Objection or Virtue

Jeanette Kennett



The Mystery Machine: Mystery, Understanding, and Action-Causation in Narratives and Virtues

David Lumsden & Joseph Ulatowski

Just as virtues can be considered to play a causal role in the production of behaviour, so too can our self-narratives.  We wish to raise an issue about this causal role that applies in both cases.  A causal theory of action explains action in folk theoretic terms, as a consequence of the appropriate pair of beliefs and desires (reasons), but when it comes to the explanatory power of reasons as causes of action we are led to consider their underlying physiological basis.  Alas, we have come to expect there to be no smooth shift from the folk-theoretic level of description to the scientific enterprise.  For a reason to cause an action, it needs to exemplify a law of nature, which are available only at the level of physical description.  Here we are confronted by a junction between the scientific and manifest images of human activity.  On Chomsky’s view, the causation of human behaviour is likely to remain beyond human science forming capacities such that the causal process remains a mystery.  Even assuming that the causation of actions by virtues is never going to be fully explained in a scientifically rigorous way, there is still room to develop our understanding of the structure of causally efficacious virtues.  Similarly, while the underlying causal power of narratives may remain steeped in mystery their nature and structure can still be usefully explored and, in particular, their effect on action becomes more plausible if we consider a segmented narrative structure.



Virtue Ethics and Narrative Ethics

Christine Swanton

Virtue ethics needs to move beyond the virtues of orthodox virtue ethics, what I call the basic virtues. It needs to become much more complex, theorizing about the relation between basic virtue and such pervasive features of our lives as roles, narrative particularity and cultural location. My view of this relation is a species of what I call an Integration View according to which there are e.g. narrative virtues or role virtues which are differentiated forms of basic virtue. This view and the nature of narrative virtue is the topic of this paper.

Virtue Ethics and Other-Directed Moral Judgments

Liezl van Zyl 

Applied virtue ethicists tend to focus on the ways in which virtue ethics is useful in helping us decide how to act in any particular situation. But as Frankena (1973) puts it, “We are not just agents in morality; we are also spectators, … judges, and critics.” My focus in this paper is on the question: Does virtue ethics allow us to make better judgments of other people’s actions?

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