Virtue as the End of Law: An Aretaic Theory of Legislation
12 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2015 Last revised: 6 Sep 2017
Date Written: August 17, 2017
This paper sketches an aretaic theory of legislation. Such a theory posits the flourishing of humans and their communities as the end or telos of law. The paper argues for a Neo-Aristotelian conception of human flourishing as a life of social and rational activities that express the human excellences or virtues. Because a flourishing life requires the acquisition, maintenance, and expression of the virtues, their promotion is the characteristic goal of legislation. The law can promote the virtues in a variety of ways, including: (1) by fostering peace and prosperity, (2) by encouraging stable and nurturing families, and (3) by creating opportunities for the meaningful work and play. Taking virtue as the end of law does not entail that legislation must require virtuous action and prohibit behavior that expresses human defects or vices. Instead, the law might pursue indirect strategies that encourage (but do not require) virtue and discourage (but do not prohibit) vice.
Keywords: jurisprudence, normative legal theory, virtue ethics, virtue jurisprudence, virtue, arete, aretaic, vice laws
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