Intelligent Virtue and the Beauty of Modern Virtue Theories

Intelligent Virtue and Modern Virtue Theories

Virtue theory is the flip side of transformative experience. Though L.A. Paul’s Transformative Experience concentrates on rationality theory and choice optimization, the implications of transformative experience lead directly to some form of virtue theory. If you are choosing between experiences that will change who you are (like going to college or enlisting), you need some way to think about who to be. That “who to be” question isn’t well handled by consequentialist or Kantian theories. Nobody strives to be a utility maximizer or a duty fulfiller. Not only are virtue theories designed to provide an answer to that question, it’s hard to imagine an answer to that question that isn’t some form of virtue theory.

That makes Intelligent Virtue by Julia Annas an important book to TW2BR even though Annas is as little focused on rationality theory as Paul is on ethics. Lacking a theory of rational choice that drives directly to an account of virtue, Annas builds a “bottom-up” account of virtue, happiness, and the relationship between the two. It’s a book very much in the tradition of modern virtue theories pioneered by Bernard Williams, well-written, crisp, and down-to-earth. ANY virtue theory is probably better than ANY Kantian or consequentialist theory – but Annas’ account is a rewarding read and a fine example of how compelling modern virtue accounts can be.


Intelligent Virtue is an ambitious account of virtue. Annas argues that while virtues are very much like skills (developed in similar fashion and requiring similar cognitive resources), they depart from skills in a few key respects. Virtues, unlike skills or knacks, have an aspirational component, requiring a commitment to the good. She also argues for the central importance of practical intelligence in developing and applying virtues which allows her to treat them as a unified whole. Annas relates this development and application of virtues to a process account of happiness, producing a theory of the good life as one that fundamentally embeds the pursuit and development of virtue.

This is beautiful and compelling, and along the way Annas has profound things to say about the nature of happiness, the rootedness of ethics in real attitudes and dispositions and the way exercising virtues can produce an understandable and even intuitive form of pleasure. But there is also room to wonder whether the account is too ambitious and claims more than a virtue (or any ethical) theory can deliver.

Here’s the way the book and the argument unfold.

Annas starts where most virtue theories start – with the idea that a virtue is a stable disposition to act a certain way. A generous person may not always be generous, and an ungenerous one may sometimes do a very generous act (see the TW2BR discussion of the situationist critique of stable human dispositions), but we can recognize that some people are much more likely to respond in certain ways to experience: ways that we admire (virtues) or ways that we don’t (vices). Of course, we aren’t born with virtues – virtues, like all refined human behaviors, must be learned by experience (this emphasis on learning and habituation makes virtue theories the only modern ethical theory that fits comfortably with cognitive science). But this dependence on learning is also a challenge for an ethical theory. We don’t want to think of virtues as just habits (baked into us the way our route driving to work is), something we do unconsciously because it’s what we’ve learned by doing over and over.

To counter that, Annas uses an analogy to skills – an analogy that becomes fundamental to her account. A concert pianist has, obviously, habituated their fingers through countless repetition to play read notes. Scales, scales, scales. They have played a performance piece countless times. Yet each performance is a conscious effort of interpretation – it is an active application of what has been learned to the piece as felt in the moment. Virtues require the same kind of conscious application.

The similarity between skills and virtues does not end there. Annas relates virtues to practical skills at many levels, beginning with the process of acquisition. All practical skills are learned. “Even simple building skills are not easy or effortless to learn; they involve more than copying a role model and then learning by repetition…But from the start something is conveyed in the teaching which is not grasped by the person who merely tries to do exactly what the teacher does.” Annas emphasizes the role of understanding, of being able to provide reasons, of applying the learnings to one’s unique situation and perspective. She also emphasizes the way our acquisition is necessarily aspirational. With virtues, like practical skills, an essential ingredient is the learners desire to improve. You don’t become a good pianist without wanting to improve and the same is surely true of acquiring virtues. You must want to be generous and brave because it is work to properly produce those behaviors. And that highlights another aspect in which virtues are like practical skills – their application is highly contextual and involves the application of practical intelligence to produce really fine behavior.

With this fleshed out conception of virtues, Annas tackles some common objections to virtue theories – their tendency toward relativism and conservatism. If we must learn virtues like courage or generosity, we will inevitably learn our local/tribal ways of thinking about how to embody a virtue (a martial culture will embody a different notion of courage than a pacifist culture; some cultures may embody honor and others scorn it). Yet we can see that virtues, on this account, are no different than practical skills. We do not think a concert pianist incapable of reflecting on and appreciating music outside their learned tradition. All learning is relative and conservative but carries with it, at some level of mastery, the ability to transcend both the habits and theory learned. This level of mastery may not always be achieved, but it is always possible because of the nature of active learning.

This leads Annas to one of the most interesting parts of the book – a discussion of virtues and their enjoyment. She begins by describing a place where the skill analogy may break down – the relationship of right feeling to execution. A potter may make a good pot without necessarily being invested in the production, but a virtue can only be exercised with right feeling. A generous action without generous intent is not truly virtuous. It’s not clear how compelling this distinction is nor whether it is necessary. It is a unique and undeniable aspect of human nature that we enjoy the application of a skill. Annas uses the concept of flow – the way we feel when we are immersed in the execution of a complex application of a skill. Everyone has experienced this. A programmer may experience it when creating an elegant function, a basketball player executing a perfect play, a writer when the right words seem to materialize on the page. If virtues are like skills in this regard, we begin to see a path connecting virtue to pleasure. A generous act, well done, may induce this feeling much like any other skill. This is an important aspect of virtue theory and a fundamental difference between virtue theory well developed and most other ethical systems. So often, morality is pitched as the thing we must do against all our inclinations – as if the very essence of moral action is to endure suffering. This makes for a remarkably uncompelling coupling of morality and living a good life. Annas’ account provides a straightforward way to see how virtues, incorporated into our behavior, will provide a deep satisfaction of the sort that we also experience in high craft, art, and sport.

With a good start on how virtue might relate to happiness and living well, Annas argues for a unity of virtues. She begins this argument by arguing for a relationship between certain virtues. Generosity, she argues, requires intelligence about what people need and want, about appropriate manners of giving. This necessarily involves empathy and a real interest in others. A perfect understanding of generosity requires, then, considerable practical knowledge and some additional virtues. This, Annas admits, is just a theory of clumping not unity. To get to unity, Annas borrows the Aristotelian conception of practical intelligence necessary to properly apply or curb any natural disposition. If the same practical intelligence underlies the application of all virtues, then it provides a unifying mechanism. To be properly generous you need a set of cognitive structures that will provide the ability to execute other virtues appropriately as well. Perhaps realizing that this argument is less than compelling, Annas also argues from the contrary. If the virtues were not unified, then a compassionate person might not have the courage to exercise their compassion appropriately – leading to a flawed virtue. She also argues that without a unity, a person would be faced with “potentially, and predictably actually conflicting, values and with no obvious resources for dealing with the situation.”

Annas extends this argument against a Humean conception of virtues as an independent collection of desirable traits. She thinks that her approach will provide a compelling way to identify a virtue that Hume’s lacks. Are things like cleanliness, industriousness, and wittiness virtues? Annas doesn’t think so, and she doesn’t see how an account predicated on admirable but independent traits can explain why. By forcing unification, Annas thinks that one can “filter out” so-called virtues since they are not essential to the application of other virtues. You need patience to apply other virtues properly, but you don’t need cleanliness.

From here, Annas tackles the big stuff – the relationship of virtues to happiness and a good life. Annas starts with the idea that virtues, unlike skills, are about character. They tell us what a person is like in a way that knowing somebody is a power-forward or a pianist doesn’t. But the virtues also involve, for Annas, a commitment to goodness. This is best illustrated as an asymmetry between virtue and vice. A virtue expresses a commitment to a positive value – the courageous person is committed to being brave. The coward, on the other hand, has no commitment to cowardice. Annas sums this up nicely: virtues involve a commitment to goodness, vices a failure to commit to goodness, and dispositions which don’t involve goodness are simply traits. For Annas, the central feature of a virtue is this commitment to goodness.

With a unified conception of virtue and a commitment to good, Annas tackles how we might relate this conception of virtues to living a good life. Her overall conception of the good life is eudaimonistic – it’s an account of happiness but not one that depends on the specific way people tend to think about happiness as a thing. It’s the broader conception of flourishing that is in play here. From a practical standpoint, the way we think about one thing being for another leads, says Annas, to thinking about one’s life as a structured whole. She doesn’t overdo this. She knows that most people never have anything remotely like a single unified conception of their life. But Annas thinks this is the point of ethical reflection. “…nearly everyone…is already living a life in which he or she is to some degree actively unifying the aims they have by working out what exactly those aims are and what form they should take. The final end, then, is the indeterminate notion of what I am aiming at in my life as a whole. And the role ethical thinking is to get us to think more determinately about it, to do a better and more intelligently ordered job of what we are already doing anyway.”

Happiness, of course, is the traditional final end that people strive for. But Annas recognizes that happiness as a psychological state isn’t the answer and that taken more broadly it, too, becomes quite indeterminate. She sees happiness as a mediating concept between specific values (money, pleasure, etc.) and broader unified aims. “In eudaimonist thinking we are seeking happiness whether or not we explicitly think to ourselves that we are, because we are all implicitly working out how to adjust our goals, as we live the one life we have.” The entry point for ethical thinking in eudaimonist terms is “reflection on how your life is going.”

Inevitably, of course, this thinking meets objections based on the observation that some people with very admirable traits and dispositions nevertheless end up leading lives that seem to be quite unhappy. The reality of chance brings with it pain and misery and seems not much a respecter of virtue. Annas relies on the distinction between the circumstances of a life and the living of that life. “Some aspects of your life are factors whose existence in your life is not under your control; virtue…is not among these, but is to be found rather in the way you live your life, you way you deal with these various factors which you can modify or cope with, but not ignore.”

Annas thinks a happy life is “one in which you deal well with these things that you have.” This is surely debatable, but it leads directly into one of the best parts of Intelligent Virtue. If happiness is indeterminate in this broad sense, there is room for specific theories of happiness underneath that broad idea of living your life well. Annas considers three common theories of happiness: pleasure, satisfaction of desires, and expressed life satisfaction and finds them all wanting.

Against pleasure, she argues that it is simply not the right kind of thing to serve as a final end around which we shape our lives and that, when one does that, we do not admire the result. Against the desire-satisfaction model she argues that it is an account based on neediness and that, given human nature, it is Sisyphean. Lastly, she takes up the notion of life satisfaction – a measure increasingly popular due to its widespread use in the social sciences. “This kind of account takes happiness to be…an attitude of global satisfaction with one’s life as a whole.” In the World Happiness Project, for example, this kind of global, expressed satisfaction with one’s life is taken to be definitional of happiness.

This is such a common view that it’s worth delving a little into Annas critique. First, she points out the essential vagueness in what people may be describing. “Some may respond that they have an affirmative attitude to their life as a whole because they have attained their major goals in life, even though emotionally they feel flat or even distressed. Others may respond…because they are feeling happy at the time they are asked, even though they failed to attain, or lost, the things they have spent their lives attaining. Some may think individual achievement matters…others family ties…It is thus quite unclear that people asked at a given time about satisfaction with their lives are answering the same question; and this obviously renders uncertain what is achieved by collecting the answers.”

In other words, what we might be hearing in these answers is mostly about the framework the respondent is using to give an answer. That’s potentially interesting in its own right, but given this kind of question, there is no way to separate out whether we are being given answers to the same or to different questions. As Annas puts it, “It is completely unclear how subjects are supposed to pick…on a single scale when two or more ways in which they think of their life as satisfactory conflict. For example: I have achieved my life’s goals, but my family has just been killed in an accident.”

She also points out that a “point-in-time” analysis is going to hide the long- and short-term ways our opinion about our own happiness may vary (from weekend to weekday, short-term happenings, and where someone is in the arc of their life or fortunes). It’s hard to know how we might make deeper sense of this kind of self-reporting or what it might be able to tell us.

Instead, Annas says it is more interesting to look at how well a person is functioning in their life – and that studies of mental health have found this to be a more useful measure than reporting life satisfaction. How well someone is functioning is clearly tied into the idea of living your life well given your circumstances and, of course, to having virtuous dispositions since those dispositions allow people to function in ways that are more satisfactory to them. Which is where Annas’ account of virtue and happiness finally intersect.

Annas begins with the common-sense point that we expect our lives to go better if we have virtues. It is sensible to think that “living a good life is, at the very least, one way of living a happy life.” Given Annas view that happiness is an active way of living one’s life, the two can come to seem almost synonymous. “Both living virtuously and living happily are ways of living my life…making the best of the life I have led up to now….If I ask about my life, how best can I live happily from now on…the answers will take the form: living honestly, say, or living dishonestly…Which I choose will make a difference to whether I live happily.”

She sums it up this way: “The virtues…are a matter of character; the different virtues (and vices!) make up my character in various areas of life. Happiness, on a eudaimonist view, is the way I live my life overall. In any life there will, then, always be a dynamic interplay between the virtues and happiness.”

Of course, a great many readers aren’t going to accept that this is really what they mean by happiness. And they may still be looking for an argument that living virtuously has a more direct connection to a psychological state of happiness. Annas returns to the skill analogy to argue that if “enjoyment lies in active engagement with what we are doing and how we are living, rather than in waiting around for pleasant feelings,” then it seems right to assert than in acting virtuously we will get real enjoyment. This does not, of course, mean that we don’t get pleasure and happiness from other things as well (having money, security, status, love, friendship, etc.). Annas tends toward the idea that virtues are necessary to happiness but perhaps not sufficient, but she leaves the relationship between them as something requiring more and perhaps more personal reflection.


If you take the problem of transformative experience as a real problem for a theory of rationality, it is hard not to end up, in ethics, as some form of virtue theorist. If the way you think and who you are is changed by experience (as it undoubtably is), then you will necessarily be committed to some form of experience selection designed, at least in part, to change who you are. That means thinking seriously about how you might want to be. And whatever answer you give to that question is, in some respects, a virtue theory. Yet there is not one simple account of virtue and if you approach the problem from the standpoint of transformative experience and cognitive science, you are not committed to any specific set of virtues, any commitment to virtues as “good,” or to any moral or ethical framework whatsoever. You’re only committed, in a very Humean way, to finding some kinds of people and some dispositions admirable. The more traditional virtue theory you bake into your account, the more ambitious it is and, inevitably, the harder it will be to justify. Intelligent Virtue presents a quite ambitious account of virtue ethics. More ambitious, perhaps, than can be fully justified.

There are a couple of places where the argument in Intelligent Virtue would be improved by more attention to cognitive science and transformative decision-making. Annas doesn’t capture the role of reinforcement learning in developing cognitive dispositions (virtues or otherwise), which makes her accounts of learning, mentorship and culture weaker. She is probably more optimistic than is reasonable that virtue (or at least every virtue) is open to everyone and that virtues are wholly or even mostly within our control. And, surprisingly for someone who clearly knows her Bernard Williams, she does little to establish a relationship between one’s life projects and virtues. It’s hard to see how the two can be separated and the relationship between them seems fundamental in any theory of transformative experience.

This may be a case where the two most problematic parts of Annas’ account – the unity of virtues and the unifying role of practical intelligence – influence her thinking.

The unity of the virtues is like one of those Catholic heresies that can never be banished but reappear in every age as a temptation. It is intellectually appealing, but it defies all our common-sense notions of virtue, our common usages of virtue words (e.g. courage, generosity), and any plausible view from cognitive science. Annas leans heavily on the skills analogy for most of Intelligent Virtue, but in both the unity of the virtues and the role of practical intelligence she abandons it.

The idea that skills are unified is, obviously, absurd. We need only listen to Michael Jordan play the violin or Daniel Hope dribble to see that no such unification exists. This even though, as with virtues, a great deal of practical intelligence is necessary to the application of many skills.

Indeed, though we undeniably see virtues clump, the folk view of virtues tends to see them as frequently in a kind of conflict. We sense that while a full development of the martial virtues (e.g. courage) are not incompatible with kindness, generosity and empathy, they are more likely to be negatively than positively associated with them. Nor is the reason for this hard to see. The rigors, discipline, violence, and hardship that encompass military training and experience are fundamentally different than the types of training and experience used in training nurses or painters. The enormous difference between Basic Training and the Iowa Writers Workshop should tell us that, from a practical standpoint, virtues are not unified but are shaped and honed by utterly distinct types of training and education.

In fact, given the vagaries of language we should not even expect the underlying dispositions within a single virtue word to be unified. From a cognitive science perspective, a virtue – like a skill – must be instantiated as a connection system in the brain. It is trained by specific experiences, and it responds to those experiences in a reasonably consistent though contextual  fashion.[1]

Annas argues that soldiers can understand the use of the word courage when applied to a pacifist – suggesting that this means the virtue must be generalizable across both cases. And from a language perspective, this is true. But to suggest that the same cognitive structures must underlie both dispositions is certainly a mistake. We can understand how the word discipline can be meaningfully applied to soldiers marching in ranks and to a scientist staying focused for decades on a hard problem, but do we have any reason to believe it’s the same type of cognitive structure?

Consider that in martial terms, courage is directly related to one’s ability to function effectively and suppress instincts of flight and surging adrenaline in combat. This is a hard skill and surely a virtue. Yet what cognitive relationship do we think it bears to an ability to stand up for one’s beliefs when, in the cool hours of reflection, one is faced with social disapproval? This, too, is a valuable skill and one that can recognizably be called courage. That it is the same thing seems highly unlikely especially since we see little or no correlation between the two dispositions in the world.

Words can be generalized to countless situations and remain understandable. We are masters of metaphor. But we have no reason to think that because a word can be used across multiple behaviors it represents a unified structure in the brain driving all those behaviors. Indeed, we should be careful not to think that any such dispositive words represent anything real in the brain at all. The words we use may be only vague shadows of far more complex cognitive structures. Connection systems are impossible to represent in language and it is highly unlikely that a single abstract virtue word will capture something specific and definitive in the brain. This is important because virtue words only have meaning insofar as there is some set of experiences likely to create the underlying disposition.

That doesn’t mean dispositions aren’t real or aren’t describable. It just means that they are almost certainly more vague and complex than can be captured easily in language. Nor should we expect that natural language usage will map in some logical way to underlying cognitive structure. It is the work of great novelists to do this well – not virtue words.

In general, the best evidence for the existence of a disposition being something more than an artifact of language is the demonstrated ability of some set of experiences to reliably create it. When very different types of training are used in practice, the underlying structures in the brain are probably different even if the word we attach to the disposition is the same.

Nor does the mechanism Annas provides for unifying the virtues seem adequate to the job – in either a folk or a cognitive sense. There is no doubt that practical intelligence underlies the application of many different cognitive dispositions. To be appropriately generous requires the practical intelligence to be able to diagnose what people need, how they will react to different behaviors, and how an act of generosity can be done most effectively. But does this really provide a mechanism for unification? Isn’t the virtue itself still quite distinct?

This insistence on practical intelligence as a unification method leads Annas into a series of questionable arguments about the role and nature of reason-giving “virtue is like practical skill in being more than a subrational knack, and accounts of virtue make a bad mistake if they downplay the role of reason-giving, and demands for reasons, as we are educated to have virtues. One of the major problems with the subrational, ‘knack’ picture of virtue was pointed out already by Aristotle in the distinction he draws between virtue proper and mere natural virtue…because the person lacks the ability to demand and give reasons for what he does he is not equipped to deal with new and unforeseen circumstances.”

Annas believes that an inability to give reasons also “disables us from giving any plausible account of ethical advice or disagreement. A loyal person, say, is asked what someone should do who wants to be loyal to their friend, but has realized that the friend is taking drugs. We expect the person asked for advice to be able to offer reasons for and against breaking off relations with the friend. It would obviously be absurd if they replied that there was no way they could explain…”

Finally, Annas argues that there are issues about virtues that we discuss in everyday life that require reasons. The example here, “Two people become parents, and naturally wish to bring the child up well. Do they need a specific virtue of parenting, needed only by parents, and having a specific shape and demands? Or do they simply need to apply virtues they already have (to some degree) such as sympathy and patience, and learn to apply this in a new context? Which of these ways of looking at the matter they take may make a large difference to the way they go about learning to be good parents. How we decide between these to positions about virtue is something that we discuss and give reasons for…,” is perhaps the weakest and most improbable example in the whole book.[2] Perhaps there are better examples of the category, but it’s hard to think of one.

In any case, all three of these arguments reflect a confusion about the role of reasons in decision-making. There is no doubt that the ability to provide reasons for something can occasionally allow a decision-maker to achieve a higher level of abstraction and generalization. However, it’s important to realize how little our actual thought need be verbal. Particularly at the level of right action (in skills or virtues), very little is calculated verbally. Nor should we believe that because someone cannot attach reasons to something they are not thinking about it in a very sophisticated and flexible manner.

Skills provide an excellent analog here. There are masters of skills who can converse in depth and with considerable virtuosity about their skill. Other, equally skillful practitioners by any performative measure, have not the ability. This suggests that there are two different skills in play. One is the ability to do the skill, the other is the ability to describe and talk about the skill. A person may have the skill and the ability to talk about skill, the skill without the ability to talk about it, and even the ability to talk about it without having the skill. Many fine coaches were students of the game but lacked the abilities (physical, emotional, and even mental) to translate that intellectual knowledge into actual success in the endeavor. Nor is this bifurcation of skill and explanation limited to physical skills. Many a profound musician is utterly unable to explain their choices in either composition or playing. Poets, painters, and even novelists may struggle to produce reasons for their performance or will simply reject the idea that any such verbal reasons exist. Mendelssohn said this about his Songs Without Words: “So much is spoken about music and so little is said. For my part, I do not believe that words suffice for such a task, and if they did, I would no longer make music…the thoughts…are not too vague to put into words but, on the contrary, are too precise.”

It is wrong to think that an inability to slap reasons onto an action is proof that the activity itself is a “knack” or is proof that the practitioner is somehow working at a lower level of rationality. One cannot practice philosophy without reasons, but there are a great many things one can quite well without them.

Indeed, the role of reasons in most decision-making – particularly of the sort we describe as moral or skillful- is post-hoc and explanatory. Reasons are the verbal gloss we put on an action, almost never the driver of the decision. A glib facility with attaching reasons to those decisions is neither evidence of advanced virtue nor, in the real-world, likely to be well correlated to our assessments of character.

This is equally true when it comes to practical intelligence of the broad, unifying sort that Annas is looking for. Our behaviors are complex and driven by a vast array of systems in the brain doing things as different as associating memories, focusing attention, applying narratives, and making judgements about other’s state of mind. Everyone develops some level of practical intelligence that blends social awareness, practical know-how, and basic reasoning (probably along with a bunch of other tools). These capabilities are used in almost every kind of action (ethical or otherwise). This extreme generalizability makes them poor candidates to unify anything.

After all, this same practical intelligence can serve one in practicing a vice just as well as a virtue. Dishonesty is hard work, and only someone who can diagnose what people want to hear, how they will react, and what kinds of deceit will be most effective, can do it well. But if the practical intelligence necessary to practice dishonesty well is the same as the practical intelligence to practice honesty well, then it’s hard to see how it could be a unifying force for the virtues.

Finally, from a cognitive training perspective, it seems obvious that the types of training necessary to produce all those disparate abilities in practical intelligence are only peripherally related to the ones used to create various virtue dispositions. We simply have no reason to expect that unification could or would occur at any level.

Annas may think that an account of virtue that doesn’t get to unification loses a great deal. But it isn’t clear in Intelligent Virtue what exactly is lost. If we push the skills analogy further and assume that virtues really are skills of a certain sort (making virtues a subset of skills not an analogy to skills)  – perhaps the sort, as Annas claims, that are committed to the good, why do they need to be unified any further?

Annas does claim that without a unity of virtues, an agent will be left with “potentially, and predictably actually conflicting, values and with no obvious resources for dealing with the situation.” But, of course, we are nearly always in precisely that situation with every kind of value. It’s a familiar predicament for any decision-maker and we should probably question any abstract system that promised to eliminate such conflicts.

Leaving virtues disparate has no impact on their integration into a life or on their potential to drive to happiness. In everyday life we are not fazed to think that a kind person may not be wise or a brave one kind. Nor does it ever seem like we are pursuing some grand unification of virtues for ourself or our life-projects. The soldier pursues one set of virtues and while not all may be specific to their profession, the overall shape of the virtues they pursue (like their other skills) will certainly be heavily influenced by their life projects. Ditto for the painter and nurse and the teacher. No one really aspires to every virtue, just as no aspires to every skill. In what life situation or decision do or should we think about some grand unification of virtues?

It’s a good thing that very little depends on unifying the virtues; because although Annas insistence on the unity of the virtues (and the mechanism for that unification) may be problematic, this weakness does surprisingly little damage to her overall account. What she says about the role of virtues in life, about the acquisition of virtues in practice, about the close relationship between skills and virtues, about the potential for virtues to be a central ingredient in a good life, and about the nature of happiness are in no way dependent on her argument for a highly unlikely unity. And for any decision-maker faced with the necessity of transformative experience and the need to make choices between experiences that will shape one in radically different ways, this kind of virtue theory is the right kind of place to begin.

[1] It might seem that insisting on a physical instantiation like this reduces virtues to habits but that is not so. All human behavior must be driven by structures in the brain. Whatever distinction exists between habits and virtues will survive that reduction or it could not have been meaningful in the first place.

[2] Thankfully, this isn’t remotely representative. Annas is not much given to the common habit of philosophers to

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