Stoic Virtue: A Contemporary InterpretationSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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The Stoic understanding of virtue is often taken to be a non-starter. Many of the Stoic claims about virtue -- that virtue requires moral perfection and that all who are not fully virtuous are vicious -- are thought to be completely out of step with our commonsense notion of virtue, making the Stoic account more of an historical oddity than a seriously defended view. Despite many voices to the contrary, I argue that there is a way of making sense of these Stoic claims. Recent work in linguistics has shown that there is a distinction between relative and absolute gradable adjectives, with the absolute variety only applying to perfect exemplars. In this paper, I show that taking virtue terms to be absolute gradable adjectives -- and thus that they apply only to those who are fully virtuous -- is one way to make sense of the Stoic view. I also show how interpreting virtue-theoretic adjectives as absolute gradable adjectives makes it possible to defend Stoicism against its most common objections, demonstrating how the Stoic account of virtue might once again be a player in the contemporary landscape of virtue theorizing.