My project’s overarching aim is to articulate and defend a novel version of the skill model of virtue. The skill model of virtue was the standard view in ancient Greek ethical thought and has had a resurgence in recent decades (e.g., Dreyfus & Dreyfus 1991, Annas 1993, 2011, Stichter 2007, Swartwood 2013). In brief, the skill model of virtue holds that the acquisition and exercise of virtue is (like) the acquisition and exercise of a practical skill, and thus that virtuous agents are (analogous to) practical experts. If so, understanding the acquisition and exercise of practical expertise should illuminate our understanding of virtue. However, there are conflicting accounts of the nature and acquisition of practical skills, which subsequently lead to conflicting accounts of virtue. In an attempt to forward the debate, I evaluate two prominent, contrasting versions of the skill model of virtue, drawing out several plausible desiderata. Then, building on these accounts, I explicate and defend a version of the skill model of virtue that satisfies the desiderata. The account that results has significant practical and theoretical implications e.g. for ethical education and moral epistemology.
My approach is novel in that I start with the idea that acquiring expertise, whether in practical domains or in theoretical inquiry, is a process of coming to understand. Understanding is normally considered to be an intellectual achievement and so is naturally thought only to apply to theoretical endeavours. However, in the light of increasing consensus that cognition is an embodied phenomenon, I distinguish two dimensions of understanding that correspond to practical and theoretical activities respectively. I ground this conception of understanding in the phenomenology of action by demonstrating that there are distinct layers in the way we are consciously aware of what we do. I argue that awareness is a source of knowledge, and as such that the different layers of awareness in action are apt to ground this conception of understanding. Given this, the account of ethical expertise that emerges makes room for two ways reflection is important to ethical expertise; first, ethical expertise requires reflecting on the coherence of one’s commitments; second, ethical expertise requires reflecting on whether the commitments implicit in one’s practical understanding map onto the commitments one explicitly endorses. I end by drawing out some interesting implications of the account for debates in normative ethics, including the debate concerning the permissibility of relying on moral testimony.