Word Games

Featured image is Lower-Austrian Peasant Wedding, by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller

J. L. Austin made a tremendous breakthrough in linguistics and the philosophy of language when he demonstrated the performative character of language—that is, by saying something we are always doing something. Extreme cases include “I now pronounce you man and wife,” which, when uttered in the right circumstances, changes the status of two people from being single to being married.

The problem with operationalizing this comes in with the notion of “in the right circumstances.” Can these be specified in advance? At what level of detail? How small do deviations need to be before the speech act is nullified (or “infelicitous” as Austin put it)? Are some infelicities more important or decisive than others, and does this vary for each sort of speech act?

Austin ultimately gave up on a completed system, though many speech act theorists since him have taken up the torch. Among these, his former student John Searle is the most notable.

But I stand with critics like Jacques Derrida and Stanley Fish in thinking that a high degree of uncertainty is required by the subject matter. Derrida has pointed out that if the successful performance of a speech act is determined by context, and context is boundless, then we can never know with the certainty of mathematical or logical necessity that we have avoided infelicity. There may be aspects of the speech situation that we did not notice at the time which invalidate it retroactively, and the uncertainty around this is ineradicable.

It is akin to digital security—we may use top of the line cryptography, we may use stricter than best practice implementations, but we cannot know about security holes that haven’t been discovered yet. If we could, then we would have discovered them already. There is no reducing, much less eradicating, uncertainty of this sort—in security or in speech acts.

The point is not that no speech act ever succeeds, but that it isn’t something we can really measure externally from the situation and the people involved. Moreover, even to participants it is not known with the certainty of the solution to mathematical problems.

Without pretending to such certainty, I’d like to build off of our previous discussion of Aristotle’s notions of actuality and potentiality, as well as efficient and finals causes, in order to continue the discussion of when speech acts go right or wrong. Continue reading “Word Games”

Where Do Beliefs Come From?

Featured image is Sunset, by Caspar David Friedrich.

This post is dedicated to Drew Summitt, who has relentlessly pushed Aristotelian metaphysics upon me. It is also a technical followup to this piece.

To have beliefs, one must have a lot of other beliefs. This is John Searle’s summary of the point that, in analytic philosophy anyway, goes back at least as far as W. V. Quine. No lone belief is coherent in isolation, but only as part of a web of beliefs that provide it with context.

Rather than a web, Searle spoke of a Network. At first he believed the Network was a set of unconscious beliefs that provide context for conscious beliefs. But in time he came to see that the notion of an “unconscious belief” is dubious. Instead, we ought to speak of having the capacity to generate some specific belief.

We think of memory as a storehouse of propositions and images, as a kind of big library or filing cabinet of representations. But we should think of memory rather as a mechanism for generating current performance, including conscious thoughts and actions, based on past experience.


Instead of saying “To have a belief, one has to have a lot of other beliefs,” one should say “To have a conscious thought, one has to have the capacity to generate a lot of other conscious thoughts. And these conscious thoughts all require further capacities for their application.”

The Network is the specific set of capacities for generating the relevant beliefs. It is a subset of the Background, which are all of the non-mental capabilities that generate mental states.

I find this taxonomy compelling. I would summarize the basic insight as follows: consciousness, knowledge, beliefs, and all mental states are performed, not stored. As Richard Moodey put it, “I imagine ‘knowledge’ as inseparable from acts of knowing, as something performed, rather than possessed.”

So we have performed mental states, and we have capacities for generating them. What is the ontology of these capacities? Continue reading “Where Do Beliefs Come From?”

A Few Tools for Analyzing Rhetoric

Featured image is Still Life With a Skull and Medical Book

This post is intended to be a companion piece to this one

This is going to be a nuts and bolts piece, fleshing out a few technical concepts with examples from a sample of texts. It is meant to be a companion to a shorter, more readable piece. I would suggest starting there, and then returning here if you feel the urge to dig deeper.

Contrary to Sam’s point that rhetoric is an extra skill that scientists would have to learn, I want to demonstrate here that scientists live and breathe rhetoric. A scientific paper is a work of rhetoric; the authors seek to persuade their peers in a number of ways beyond simply accepting their conclusion. This is what Deirdre McCloskey has been saying about economics for decades.

My corpus for this exercise will be the following:

Continue reading “A Few Tools for Analyzing Rhetoric”

Moral Enchantment

Featured image is Starry Night Over the Rhone, by Vincent van Gogh

My fellow Sweet Talker Paul offered some thoughts on moral objectivity this week. It was not so long ago that I was looking for this very sort of answer to this very question. As few as two, perhaps even one and a half years ago, I might have quibbled with the details but agreed with the spirit of the piece. Eight years ago I took a stab at something like it, though much less sophisticated.

My situation was very different then.

Lately it is not the substance of the answer that I struggle the most with. It is the question itself: is morality objective or subjective? Even intersubjectivity seems dissatisfactory, when most simply treat it as either one or the other–either pseudo-objectivity, or just as arbitrary as plain old subjectivity.

In what follows I will offer, if not an answer, then a picture, an attempt to portray how matters appear. I am not yet at a stage where I could tell you the question to which this picture is a provisional answer.

Continue reading “Moral Enchantment”

Radicalism as a virtue


As any Intro Ethics final will note, Aristotle’s describes the virtues as “the middle state” between extremes of excess and deficiency. The paradigm case is courage, the virtue that sits between rashness and cowardice, respectively. This conception of virtue is labeled “The doctrine of the mean”, or simply “the golden mean”, and has its precursors in the Delphic Oracle’s imperative “Nothing in excess” and the Analects of Confucius.

The Doctrine of the Mean seems to oppose radicalism on its face. The very term “radicalism” connotes an extremism of views; if the virtue lies in the middle, then no radical view can be virtuous. As Paul and Adam suggested in a recent discussion, a virtue ethics seems to preclude compatibility with radical feminism by its very formal structure. Liberal feminism, as the more moderate view, seems prima facie the more virtuous position.

But this prima facie argument fails to appreciate the subtleties of the Golden Mean. For both Aristotle and his predecessors, the virtuous mean must be understood in relation to the extremes it avoids. A central motivation of these views is that the virtues can’t be known by any absolute criterion, but must be reckoned through reflection on the relationships we observe around us. To find the courageous mean, we must have models of not just courageous persons, but also of cowardly and rash persons. Not that we should be like the extremists, but we should watch them carefully because they set the boundaries, and it is in terms of these boundaries that I can hope to chart the virtues.

This argument has not yet established radicalism as a virtue. So far, I have only argued that the extremes have instrumental value to the virtuous. At most, this implies that the extremists cannot be eliminated from the discourse without moving where the middle lies. Indeed, the Overton window is moved not by negotiating the virtues, but by policing the extremes.

To go farther and see radicalism as a virtue, one must show that pursuing a radical or extremist beliefs is the most reasonable way to arrive at a virtuous or “middle” position. This may sound incoherent, but hopefully can be made intuitive with a few examples. First, consider orbital mechanics (more fun than archery). To get a probe to Pluto, it’s not enough to launch the probe at Pluto (and cross one’s fingers). Since Pluto is also a moving target, one must also anticipate where Pluto will be when you arrive (ten years later!), and adjust your launch path accordingly. This means that at the start, you’ll be launching a probe in a direction quite radically (!!) other than where you intend to go. But if you calculate carefully, in order to hit your target it’s precisely this radical direction you ought to aim. In this case, the radical solution just is the virtuous solution.

The point is that *aiming* at extremist views can be the most effective way to *arrive* at the correct (‘middle’) views. And, by extension, aiming at moderate views might land you on a view that isn’t virtuous at all. For a normative example that doesn’t involve space ships, consider Paul’s recent defense of liberal feminism against radical feminism.

Paul’s criticism of radical feminism (that it fails to respect the particular stories of individuals) seems lame in the face of the radical response he cites in the article (“that it doesn’t much matter how women construe their sexual choices as these choices are formed within and inextricable from male supremacy”). Indeed, at several points Paul remarks on how much of the radical feminist position is reasonably taken up by the liberal feminist view, and how hard it is to find solid ground to critique the radical.

Well, then, why think there must be a critique at all? Why can’t the radical feminist simply be correct? Paul responds by appeal to the golden mean: the extremist simply can’t be correct!

But look again at the case: Liberal (ie, moderate, “virtuous”) feminists hold views that are clearly grounded in and consistent with (if less radically articulated than) the radical feminists. This seems to exactly be a case where aiming at the radical position CAN leave one on the correct trajectory to a virtuous view. The radical is there to set the bounds of the discussion, and thereby shift the middle towards their preferred views. By articulating strongly radical views, it brings many of those positions into the mainstream where they can be sensibly adopted by the moderates, reinforcing these new norms *as* the norm. The moderates legitimize the work of the radicals at the edges (or discard what cannot be tolerated from the middle) until all the minis have been maxed. And behold, a virtue is born.

The point here is not that the radical is “correct”, or that the liberal is “correct”. The point is that both positions play a dynamical role in the discourse, both simultaneously serving to locate and reinforce the middle where they see fit, and both work together to accomplish this task even where they disagree. That the liberal and radical feminist overlap so strongly in the present is evidence that the destinations they’re tracking are so far away as to converge at the horizon. If anything, the overlap of these views is evidence of the distance we have yet to cover; given where we are, their disagreements are effectively irrelevant.

But while this doesn’t let us decide between the radical and moderate views, it does suggest that any simple-minded aim at a moderate position will likely fail to appreciate the dynamics involved. One ought to advocate for radical views in situations where radicalism helps move the discourse towards the virtuous center; often, advocating for the center is not such a view. One ought to advocate for the center in a way that helps to locate and reinforce it, but when moderate views appeal to the center-as-default, it can be counterproductive to any actual moderation precisely because it obscures the effort to find it.

Thus, and absent any deep paradox with virtue theory, the radical can indeed behave with more virtue than the moderate. The radical might not only help others better find virtue, but might herself stand as a model of virtue.

Be radical, kids.

Forgive Me My Humean Trespasses

The gap between 25 and 30 is not very big in absolute terms, but it can certainly seem that way.

That is how I felt as I reread a post on morality that I wrote five years ago. Back then, I was pretty devoted to David Hume’s philosophy, and had been for some time. Part of it was due to many conversation with my father, for whom Hume loomed large as well. Part of it was that I’d actually read Hume, and not much else where philosophy was concerned. And in spite of that lack of familiarity with the alternatives (a shortcoming not shared by my father) I had an utter certainty in it.

This in spite of the fact that the very philosophy I was certain of had, as a cornerstone, the idea that reasoning was powerless to discover or demonstrate much of anything. This cornerstone eventually led me to conclude that there was no such thing as reason at all. Looking back, I want to ask that 25-year-old—how can you be so certain, when you are so unfamiliar with the arguments to the contrary and don’t even believe that certainty is ever warranted?

Martin Cothran made basically this argument, when he and his son Thomas engaged my father and I in discussion back at that time.

Against Unreason

One aspect of my framework of the time was the notion that utter inconsistency didn’t matter. In talking about the relationship between God and morality, I argued that there was no logical connection between the two, and also that logical connections don’t matter.

Responding to my piece, Martin Cothran made a move that has lately become familiar to me:

I’m not sure I understand exactly what he is saying here in regard to the role of reason in moral discourse. If logic is “irrelevant to whether or not I believe in either God or morality,” then why should anyone find his point that there is “no logical inconsistency in the fact that I don’t believe in a divinity but do believe in morality” persuasive? If logic is not operative in the discussion of the relation between God and morality, then why is the absence of logical inconsistency in a position on this relation commendable?

Though I had not read a word of Foucault at the time, I think this position was more in his court than Hume’s. I held onto this point about inconsistency for a very long time, but after our own Drew Summit began sending me works in Aristotelian and Thomist metaphysics, I began to see the absurdity of it. The last straw for me was Elliot Michael Milco’s fantastic thesis, “Michel Foucault and Thomas Aquinas in Dialogue on the Basis and Consummation of Intelligibility“.

As Martin pointed out, it’s rather hard to make any assertion at all with teeth if you don’t care about consistency. My argument about inconsistency undermined my argument about the logical connection between God and morality—if consistency doesn’t matter, then there could both be no logical connection between God and morality, and be a completely crucial logical relationship between God and morality—simultaneously. Productive analysis would prove impossible.

In discussing this point with my father, he argued that it doesn’t apply to human relations. His example was that it’s possible to both love and hate someone. But this isn’t a true inconsistency—no one would argue that love and hate are mutually exclusive. And if you do argue that, then you are committed to defending the idea that you can’t both love and hate someone at the same time, by definition.

Moreover, I very strongly believed that I had made a case for my Humean framework. I made what Joseph Heath identified as a typical non-cognitivist mistake; I used general-skeptic arguments and thought I only undermined my opponents’ position.

Aporia, the beginning of so many philosophical investigations, is precisely the discovery of seeming inconsistencies. Not everyone needs to be bothered with such things, to be sure. But the advance of our knowledge requires us to attempt to uncover whether inconsistencies are merely superficial, or whether some deeper revision in our framework is necessary.

Man Cannot Flourish On Moral Sentiments Alone

The most particularly Humean aspect of my framework at the time was what I later learned was called non-cognitivism. It’s the idea that we don’t think something is wrong because of judgment or beliefs, but because of feelings. As my father put it in his contribution to the discussion five years ago:

We don’t reason our way to condemnation of child abuse: we grow angry at the sight of it. Later, we may devise rational arguments to persuade others – sometimes ourselves – of the rightness of our opinions and actions. But I feel the wrongness of child abuse with a delicacy that, say, an ancient Spartan would have lacked.

As the Sparta example was intended to indicate, there is a strong cultural element involved in the shaping of our moral sentiments. In this way, morality is reduced to unthinking feeling combined with unreflective cultural practice (rather than theory). They combine to form a non-cognitive cocktail.

Among the evidence that he brings to the fore is Jonathan Haidt’s “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail,” in which Haidt points out that people jump to moral conclusions first and rationalize after the fact.

In response, Thomas Cothran argues that we mixed up moral psychology with moral philosophy.

This opposition is founded upon a category mistake. The question of why people believe in certain moral principles belongs do the discipline of moral psychology; the question whether those moral principles are true belongs to moral philosophy. Obviously people can believe in true things for false reasons: just because one’s belief that Caesar existed is predicated upon the belief that the television show “Rome” is a documentary does not make the historical arguments any less valid. Further, people often believe in true things on the basis of beliefs that don’t have much to do with the truth or falsity of the subject: people might believe in relativity theory because Stephan Hawking believes in it, but the fact that Hawking has an opinion on the subject doesn’t bear on the truth or falsity of relativity theory. The process of evaluating the truths of beliefs is distinct from the process of evaluating how different people come to their beliefs.

From our very different projections of the whole truth of morality, Jonathan Haidt’s study has commensurately different implications. For my father and I, it seemed to confirm the Humean processes at work. For Thomas, it seemed like an ad hominem attack on moral realism, because it attempted to discredit it by means of the psychology of particular people.

I have come around to Thomas’s point of view. The idea that Haidt’s study on moral reasoning discredits moral realism now seems to me akin to making the argument that Kahneman’s studies showing people are bad at statistical reasoning is evidence against the validity of statistics.

Moreover, I have come believe that all of non-cognitivism’s core premises are simply false. First, desires are not non-cognitive. As our own Sam Hammond put it:

It’s tempting to think of desires as following a linear chain down to some base foundational affect, implanted somewhat arbitrarily by evolution. But this is an elementary error.

While true that evolution has equipped us with certain somatic states (like hunger pangs), desire (like “I desire to eat”) contains propositional content. Like beliefs, desires are part of a holistic web that we draw from in the discursive game of giving or asking for reasons. In turn, desires like beliefs are capable of being updated based on rational argumentation and the demand for coherence.

This is actually quite close to what Aristotle believed.

Let’s take the child abuse example my father provided. We don’t just see a thing and unthinkingly get angry about it. In order to get angry, we have to have grasped what the situation is. The anger comes from the belief that child abuse is wrong and that it is occurring. This is crucial—in many cases of child abuse (or other wrongs), the thing is allowed to keep going on precisely because we don’t want to acknowledge that a loved one or an important person in the community is capable of doing such a thing. People go out of their way not to notice or acknowledge something going on right in front of them, because to notice would be to acknowledge a duty to act. How we construe a situation is not simply reflexive; we have a dual responsibility as audience of the situation as well as part-authors of our own.

The Spartan example points to how pliable even the belief that child abuse is bad can be. But culture, convention, and tradition are not simply unthinking practice. Like desire, they have a cognitive content, they have intentionality. As Adam Adatto Sandel puts:

Despite all appearance and without explicit “innovation and planning,” tradition is constantly in motion. What might seem to be blind perpetuation of the old, or mechanical habit, always has a “projective” dimension. Handing down tradition really means adapting it to the current circumstances, maintaining it in the face of other possibilities. And through such preservation, tradition is constantly being redefined: “affirmed, embraced, cultivated.” Although this process operates, for the most part, unconsciously, it is nevertheless critical. The distinction between tradition and reason is ultimately unfounded.

For an in depth treatment of this very subject, see this post. Suffice it to say that in as much as Martin and Thomas Cothran buy into Alasdair MacIntyre’s vision of tradition, I think they, too, fall into error.

But in an email, Thomas provided a picture of Aristotle’s method that strikes me as the correct one:

First, Aristotle doesn’t have a rigid system, his inquiry is responsive to the conditions of the everyday world. Second, Aristotle’s method does make room for cultural difference, but not in a way that precludes finding some ultimate truth. A culture may have good or bad practices and beliefs, but in any case they can neither be accepted uncritically or ignored in favor of some abstract rule. And finally, Aristotle’s method requires that we evaluate his arguments for ourselves — he never encourages his readers to accept things on his own say so, and his thinking is designed to be taken up critically.

In terms of “finding some ultimate truth,” I interpret him as saying that we can find moral truths that are not culturally relative. However, we do not have some logical foundation that puts such truths beyond doubt, and what knowledge we obtain—ultimate or otherwise—is fallible knowledge, just like human knowledge in any domain.

The Tragic Nature of the World

My father asserted:

Every morality is erected on ideals. Every ideal is an unattainable model of behavior. Every good person is inching toward an ideal vision of himself: that person-as-he-could-be.

To which Thomas responded:

[T]he assertion that “[e]very ideal is an unattainable model of behavior” is manifestly false: many ideals (such as the ideal that people ought not murder each other) are more attained than not.

I think this is a nit-pick, and that Thomas misses the tragic vision of the world behind my father’s statement. Human arrangements and ideals always have gaps in them that cannot be filled; an ideal that is “more attained than not” is often either undemanding, or—in the case of murder—is often attained at the expense of some other ideal. The police and prison apparatus that we built up in this country over the past couple of decades is rife with abuses of its own, some quite horrible. But I don’t want to quibble over particular points—the larger image of human beings as inherently imperfect and imperfectible, but also as striving and struggling towards betterment, is the right one.

It is because of this tragic nature, however, that authority is an ineradicable aspect of human life. Martin Cothran asked me how, in my framework at the time, “any moral statement can be considered authoritative over human behavior.” My father answered with a call to embrace contingency:

By embracing contingency, nothing is lost. No moral proposition can ever be “authoritative over human behavior” – Cothran’s phrase – in the absolute way that gravity has authority over bodies in space. An ideal must always be chosen, and always there will be those who refuse to do so: bad persons, weak persons, good persons in a weak moment.

I have come to think that authority—of ideals and of persons—is an ineradicable aspect of human life. But I wouldn’t call it authority “in the absolute way that gravity has authority of bodies in space.” At minimum, it is contingent on the existence of the human race. And a good Aristotelian would say that a great deal is indeed contingent on the circumstances—without ruling out the possibility of ultimate (but human) truths.

Where Do the Virtues Come From?


Some ten years ago, a Catholic virtue ethicist group blog linked to something on my father’s blog, Vulgar Morality. So long ago was this in Internet years that I cannot even find the virtue ethicist blog in question, and my father had not moved to WordPress yet, but was using Radio UserLand—a for-pay frankenstein hybrid between desktop publishing and blogging.

It was my first encounter with the very concept of virtue ethics, but I didn’t really look into it at the time. I remember my dad remarking “there seems like there’s something to it, but I don’t really understand where the virtues are supposed to come from.”

It was years before I took any interest in the virtues again. I won’t bore you again with the details, but suffice to say that if you’ve spent any time at Sweet Talk at all, you’re probably aware I have a bit of an interest in the subject these days.

A year ago I attempted to think about this question of where the virtues come from.

David, sensing epistemological arrogance, was quite critical of my post:

How, just how do you think that you would ever in a million years have any confidence in knowing the telos of the sum of your short number of breaths in this mortal coil? That really is the nub of the thing: one simply does not have enough time to contemplate the day ahead before its sun sets, and you expire, going to rest in the dust.

My response amounted to “something something historically contingent something something Heraclitus’ river.”

Having let that discussion sit for some time, I’d like to return to it again, now that I have a more hermeneutic understanding of virtue.

Now, like a year ago, I think the answer must be something like the version of naturalism elaborated by Philippa Foot. She speaks of “goodness” in the sense of “a good specimen of X.” A sickly, or uniquely asocial chimpanzee would not make for a good example of chimpanzees. It might be useful, for human purposes, if we wanted to understand the sicknesses that sometimes befall chimps or the range of social deviance from the norm, and what happens to such deviants in the wild. But we could not even do this without a sense of what a good specimen is like, in contrast to the deviant.

As Adam Sandel puts it, the way of life of chimpanzees points towards their good. A good specimen is healthy, pro-social, skilled at hunting and defending against rival groups, and so forth. In this sense the good chimp is “above average;” you cannot get a sense of it by merely averaging the qualities of the group.

These days I think what everyone wants is to be able to situate their moral philosophy in an evolutionary story. But David put it best; the question of what something is is distinct from how it came to be.

When Father Carves the Duck is an easily recognizable Thanksgiving ritual, lampooned. “How Ritual Came To Be” informs us readily with descriptors of primal provenance, e.g., the sacrificial duck, but it hardly addresses what is going on presently in this ritual, and why the poem resonates among cultural participants. If the description of what is going on travels too far from “familial interaction,” it fails to be an effective describing process for the purpose of application. In other words, there is no sacrificial duck here. What, then, is this?More distinctions are needed to be made. More work.

The fact that we can discuss how father came to have the role of the one who carves the duck at Thanksgiving in terms of primal environments or sacrificial rites does not tell us what the nature of that role is now.

Consider a more straightforward example: the heart. Asking “what is the heart?” is much more straightforward than “how did humans evolve to have hearts?” We can observe the heart in action. We have a robust medical tradition of studying hearts in various states of health. We have a very good idea of what hearts do and what a “good heart” consists of. We do not have to answer the evolutionary question before we can answer the question of what a good heart consists of. If anything, our investigation takes the opposite direction; we use our stronger evidence and better information about what the heart is to try and figure out its evolutionary origins (may a thousand “just so” stories bloom).

So when we ask “what is virtue?” or “what is a good person?” we can put to the side, for the moment, the question of “how did virtue or ‘the good’ come to be?”

From Sandel:

Aristotle understands our comprehensive “situation,” or “life perspective,” in terms of the good life. The good (to agathon), he writes, is not some abstract form to which we look for guidance but a concrete end (telos) expressed in our action (praxis). Whenever we make things, put them to use, and live out certain roles, our actions aim at the good (whether or not we consciously reflect upon the good as our aim). For “the good,” Aristotle maintains, is the end of all ends— that “for the sake of which everything else is done.”  As such, the good is both the aim of our action and its condition. It is the ultimate end (telos) toward which we strive, and, at the same time, the source, or beginning (arche), of all striving.

Virtue and the good life exist in a holistic relationship. We try to become the person we need to be in order to get the kind of life that we believe we should have. We have to understand the life in order to understand what kind of person we should be, but we need to understand what kind of person we should be in order to understand what sort of life we should lead. Virtue and the good life are a hermeneutic circle.

But our understanding of this relationship isn’t stuck in an infinite regress. It is incomplete, projective, and revisable. This is why Aristotle insisted that a philosophy of ethics would be lost on the young, who as of yet know very little about life. As we grow up and live our lives alongside other people living their lives, and receive an education, we are exposed to countless stories in books, films, and even video games—and of course, stories told to us by people in our lives. We begin to adjust ourselves towards some understanding of a good life, however haphazard or tacit.

These experiences expand our horizon, giving us a fuller, richer picture of what the good life is and what kind of person it takes to live it.

We can get a sense of what the good is and what the virtuous person is from how people live their lives. But again, this is not an averaging. As with the examples of the heart and the chimpanzee, it’s a proper notion of a good based on an understanding of what people are.

And as with those examples, how we arrive at this understanding isn’t mysterious. Pay attention, live your life, read what other people have said on the subject, and use your judgment. Join the conversation; try to persuade but be open to being persuaded.

That is my understanding of what virtue is and how we come to understand it.

Edit: Found the original discussion mentioned in the first paragraph.