Filtering friendship through phronesis: ‘One thought too many’?

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Colleges, School and Institutes


An adequate moral theory must – or so many philosophers have argued – be compatible with the attitudes and practical requirements of deep friendship. Bernard Williams suggested that the decision procedure required by both deontology and consequentialism inserts a fetishising filter between the natural moral motivation of any normal person to prioritise friends and the decision to act on it. But this injects ‘one thought too many’ into the moral reaction mechanism. It is standardly assumed that virtue ethics is somehow immune to this objection. The present article explores this assumption and finds it wanting in various respects. Virtue ethics filters friendship through phronesis and thus inserts an extra thought into the mechanism in question. To escape Williams's curse, the only way is to argue that the extra thought required by virtue ethics is not ‘one thought too many’. The article closes with an attempt to show that, contra deontology, the friendship motivation in virtue ethics is derived from the moral virtue, not the intellectual filter, and, contra consequentialism, phronesis does not require the maximisation of value. The presumed advantage of virtue ethics must lie in the content of its filter rather than the filter's non-existence.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-137
Number of pages25
Issue number1
Early online date11 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020