The Right Coast

May 30, 2004
More on Martial Virtues
By Mike Rappaport

Stephen Bainbridge (here and here) and Larry Solum's discussion of martial virtues raises at least two important questions. The first question is whether we need more martial virtues in our society. The second question is how should we answer the first question. Presumably, how we answer the second question turns on our moral theory.

As a consequentalist, I know how I would attempt to answer it. I would look at the effects of different virtues and try to determine whether martial virtues (or more precisely more emphasis on martial virtues) would have good consequences. This is surely a hard question, but to my mind it is the right question -- that is, it focuses on the considerations that seem relevant to answering the question.

How would a follower of virtue ethics or deontological theories answer this question? I am not so sure. Here is my guess as to part of the answer for (some types of) virtue ethics. One would ask a virtuous person whether martial virtues are genuine or important virtues. This seems in part circular -- when selecting the virtuous person, do we select one who displays martial virtues or not? -- but only partly so. Perhaps, Larry Solum or some other follower of this approach can help me with this issue.

It is also not clear that deontological theories have a clear answer (or a single answer). Presumably, if one's deontological theory had a place for virtues, perhaps as a means of promoting the following of moral principles, then one would have to ask whether martial virtues promoted that function. But if one's deontogolical theory did not have a place for virtues, then whether we should promote martial virtues might not be a moral question at all.