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2016/12/27 (Tue) 06:20
Why We Should Never Sacrifice Knowledge

Annas vs. Driver: Why We Should Never Sacrifice Knowledge
For as long as we Homo sapiens have been capable of reasoning, we have pondered how we ought to live our lives. What constitutes a "good" life? What constitutes a "bad" one? How should we treat the world, and how should we treat ourselves? What does "good" even mean? Although the answers to these questions are understandably still quite foggy, it seems safe to say that the general consensus leans toward a utilitarian stance: to be good is to live in a way that limits the suffering of others or that brings about the greatest happiness to the greatest number of individuals. To better strive towards maximizing universal good, humankind has tried to actively distinguish between "right" and "wrong" behaviors. In doing so, many morality systems have been proposed by many different people each with the hope of best being able to accurately guide us in this process. Those who seem to best exhibit the morals we set are praised as being virtuous. However, it is obviously not universally agreed upon as to what these standards are. Thus, living virtuously has many different meanings and applications depending on whom you talk to. See more essay samples at
In her article, "Being Virtuous and Doing the Right Thing", philosopher Julia Annas dismisses static and impersonal accounts of moral theory in favor of a developmental, personal, and knowledge-based account of virtue ethics. Most people, she argues, near adulthood with only a limited, parochial understanding of morality that they developed largely because of the family and/or culture they grew up in. Realizing that some of their ideas about morality and virtue are mere convention (and maybe even prejudicial), they then attempt to better themselves.

One way that they may go about this, as described by Annas, is to:

... take the directives that we find in our unreflective ethical thought, and refine them so that they do one thing clearly and specifically, namely direct us. We look at the rules in everyday ethical discourse, notice that they are vague and may conflict, and try to refine them so that conflict is ruled out. Or we follow Sidgwick in looking for principles behind everyday rules––principles which do not suffer from the flexibility of those everyday rules.

From this, they may try developing a "decision procedure", or a practical, systematic theory that tells them how to behave correctly––something that Annas strongly discourages.
Annas insists that a moral "theory of right action", a theory that tells us what to do, is not the method we use in determining our lives' decisions. If we follow a computer manual-like, technical model for our moral decision-making we most certainly would face problems, she argues. For one, this would imply that anyone who has access to this "manual" could supposedly become an "expert" in moral theory. At first glance this does not seem so bad, but under further inspection there are major implications if we choose to accept this. Clever––but naïve––teenagers could become moral experts. Someone with good, technical understanding of the moral-manual could have a wholly contradicting, sadist personality. Any blame or praise therefore could only be rightly attributed to the manual and not the person's character. A method that strictly tells us what to do and completely eliminates the factor of one's character is poor procedure as the only way we can justly evaluate someone is by taking his or her external character into consideration. Instead of a moral theory that simply tells everyone what to do, Annas advocates for a "building", character-based model of virtue ethics. In this, one would start by identifying people who appear to be virtuously superior to him or her in some respect. At a young age, this could be parents or teachers. It is important to note that these proposed "role models" do not have to be the ideally virtuous person or even anything close to it, they just have to be superior in virtue, if only marginally. Next, the individual, upon identifying that he is the learner, would attempt to emulate this person. As the person grows older, he/she may surpass the original role model. From here, they would find a new role model who is superior to them and this process would continue until they themselves become the role model. As moral life is not static, our way we go about it should not be either, Annas argues.
Annas uses the analogy of an aspiring piano player wanting to "play like Alfred Brendel", an expert piano player. She says that it would be silly (and rather difficult) for the learner to begin by copying Brendel's mannerisms, playing only his pieces and listening only to his music. The goal of the virtuous expert is not to create clone-like versions of themselves, but to allow others to develop their own understanding of and maybe even surpass them in hopes of becoming their own expert.
This application of virtue ethics requires knowledge. It requires the learner to develop their own understanding of virtuous behavior. It requires them to identify themselves as the learner or expert and act accordingly. This interpretation thus includes a proper evaluation of character as though everyone is capable of being the learner, not everyone will be able to become an expert.
In "The Virtues of Ignorance", Julia Driver offers a contrarian approach to virtue ethics. Driver argues that not all virtues are knowledge-based and some actually require ignorance. She uses the example that to be truly modest it requires ignorance of your true worth. Or to be blindly charitable you'd have to be ignorant of people's bad traits and only see the good in them. When we "forgive and forget" that requires a sincere form of ignorance. She argues that this makes human interaction easier as it eliminates things like jealously and envy.
These virtues of ignorance that Driver describes cannot be forced upon ourselves. It is not truly modest to just act modest when really you know your true worth (Driver describes this as false modesty). You have to literally not know. Ignorance itself then becomes a virtue in this way.
Driver's approach here argues that knowledge is not necessary for all virtues. She claims that lack of knowledge could actually be a good thing for these said virtues. Even though knowledge itself may be a virtue, she sacrifices it for other ones. To me, Annas' approach to virtue ethics is much more accurate than Driver's. I strongly criticize Driver's approach because I feel it is almost sort of a cop-out. Being a philosopher herself, shouldn't one of her main goals be to strive toward truth, not be ignorant of it? Sure, having her ignorant virtues may ease human interactions but that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. It seems like it's just a short-term fix. If I give an accurate depiction of myself, without bragging, and I come off to someone as arrogant, who's fault is it? Surely not mine.
It would seem that the fault would lie in the hands of the person calling me arrogant or in society's as a whole. Why should I constantly view myself in a slightly negative relation, or even not view myself at all, to my true worth? It seems that this would be very disrespectful to one's self. Instead maybe we should strive as a society to always be virtuous in truth, this way everyone could be taken at his or her word. Also, why should we hold anyone as virtuous who is clearly blind to the wrongdoings of others? I don't see how this could possibly benefit our society at all. To me, this person would not have the virtue of "blind charity" but they would just be absolutely blind. Driver's proposals require an enormous sacrifice, the diminishing of knowledge itself as a virtue.
Annas' account of virtue ethics also catches all virtues better. We should always be striving to improve, and not be static in our notion of virtue. Constantly, we should be attacking are preconceived notions of virtues always looking for any flaws and subsequent ways to improve. Driver's ignorance virtues don't allow for this nor good progress as a society. If everyone in our society was truly modest, or completely ignored thinking of themselves, then we could never accurately figure out where each person would best fit. Instead of being ignorant, we should work on being wholly truthful and as accurate as humanly possible.
Driver never speaks once of improving upon our present conceptions of virtue. If our conceptions of virtue are not constantly challenged then they should have little value. In contrast, Annas' account recognizes that these types of things should not be static. Take the example of the virtue of justice. What is seen as just in 2012 may not be exactly the same as in the time of Aristotle. With advancements in neuroscience and physics we are starting to realize that maybe no one can be held truly accountable for their "choices".
This changes everything as justice now becomes the question of how can we help these people and if we can't help them, how can we protect the rest of society from them, instead of solely just holding them accountable. As life is not static itself, our conceptions of virtue should change along with the times.
Driver's account also raises a significant problem. How do we distinguish what it is right to ignorant of? One might argue that it is good to a little ignorant in regards to knowledge, as knowing everything about the world could end up being wholly depressing. "Ignorance is bliss," they say. But is this really what we want? No. We should strive to discover everything we can about our existence and then strive to make the best out of it. Should we be a little ignorant in justice? This might make our interaction with the world glide a little easier as we wouldn't be so upset about the current state of things. It seems to be a huge weakness in Driver's account to allow ignorance at the expense of making others, or yourself, simply feel better.
In conclusion, the sacrifice of knowledge for the easier gliding of human interactions, as Driver posits, is not worth it. Her account would make things really tricky if everyone were to follow it. On the other hand, Annas' ever-progressing account requires us to develop our own understanding of things and always strive to be better. Sure ignorance may be bliss, but complete knowledge is pure satisfaction.

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