Neglected Virtues: Love, Hope and Humility

Change log

Love, hope and humility are neglected elements of our moral lives in comparison to widely recognized traits like justice and courage. In my dissertation I explore these phenomena in order to have a better conception of them and vindicate their place in our moral lives.

In the first section I examine the connection between love and knowledge in Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good. Murdoch makes the strange suggestion that love is a form of knowledge. How do we reconcile this claim with love’s heterogeneous and messy everyday manifestations? I develop an interpretation of Murdochian love, arguing that Murdoch conceives of love as a virtue, and as belonging at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of the virtues. This vindicates the epistemic role Murdochian love fulfils, since she conceives of the virtues as involving knowledge. I then apply this conception of love to debates about epistemic partiality, and suggest that it gives reason to think that such discussions have gone awry in taking for granted a questionable conception of friendship.

Next, I turn to hope. Hope can powerfully influence our lives, deeply shaping our actions and character, as well as being essential for social and political movements. I propose a new account of hope in which hopes characteristically shape and figure in intentions. This account does justice to hope’s distinctive manifestations in action, explains the rational constraints on hoping, and sheds light on the distinctions between hoping and related states such as wishing. Is hope a virtue? On the one hand, hope can be a powerful force for good. But on the other this thought is in tension with the observation that we can hope for evil things. I argue that hope is necessary for engaging in a broad kind of project which is essential in order to live a meaningful human life, and that this gives reason to think it is a virtue.

In the final section I explore an additional trait which can at first appear to be a strange addition to the canon of virtues: humility. Humility has sometimes been understood as a kind of servility or self-ignorance, but such traits do not obviously seem virtuous, and do not involve knowledge. In this chapter, I correct these misconceptions of humility and offer an account of it as a disposition not to valorise relative superiority. This account does justice to the moral value of humility while avoiding the concerning implication that ignorance can constitute a kind of virtue. I argue that humility thus understood plays an important role in our ethical development. Finally, I argue that some recent arguments offered by Morgan-Knapp suggesting that pride in relative superiority is theoretically mistaken are unsuccessful.

Sliwa, Paulina
Love, Hope, Humility, Virtue, Murdoch, pride, attention
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) AHRC-Trinity Studentship