Virtue and Continence: defending their cognitive difference


  • Matilde Liberti University of Genoa



virtue, silencing, values, second nature


Denise Vigani (2019) recently defended a silence-based account of virtue in the attempt to draw a humanely-achievable picture of the virtuous person. The core of her argument is that the virtuous and the continent differ in cognition, because the former construes the situation as an occasion for virtue only, while the latter construes it as an occasion for virtue also; that is, an occasion for virtue among other reasons to act that are not silenced (231). Problems arise when non-moral values clash with the requirement of virtue and are, thus, silenced as well. If silencing implies that what is silenced somehow ceases to exist for the agent, then nothing sacrificed for the sake of virtue would genuinely constitute a loss (‘no genuine loss’ argument; McDowell 1998: 16-17). Thus, we would be back to a Stoic reading of the silencing effect that sees virtue as the only true life worth (Siedman 2005; Baxley 2007). If, on the other hand, silencing implies that what is silenced ceases to be motivating, but does not cease to exist for the agent (Vigani 2019), then we need to clarify what it means for something to be valuable, yet be silenced in its motivational force. Working with real-life examples, this paper wants to support Vigani’s cognitive distinction by defending the following claims: (1) something can be valuable for the agent without necessarily contributing to the overall value of the situation (Dancy 2004), and (2) the peculiarity of the virtuous’ cognitive state can be understood in terms of the agent’s second nature (McDowell 1998; Sauer 2017; Vigani 2019), where we have the necessary co-existence of the virtuous representation of a particular situation and the motivation to act on the virtuous requirement, which is something that, on the other hand, does not hold for the continent.

Author Biography

Matilde Liberti, University of Genoa

BA Philosophy graduate at the University of Stirling (2013-2017); MA Philosophical Metodologies graduate at the University of Genoa (2018-2020).