Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Does Size Matter When It Comes To Virtue Ethics?

With the New York Yankees on the verge of getting eliminated from the post-season and Jeff Maynes teaching an ethics class, we had a chance to think about Schadenfreude...sweet, sweet Schadenfreude.

Surely, from a virtue ethics perspective there is something vicious about Schadenfreude. Being the sort of person who delights in the pain of other humans (for the sake of this question, we'll assume Yankee fans are to be included in this category) certainly shows a flaw that one absolutely would not want to be an entrenched part of one's character.

But this is just a game, indeed, a game that the fans are not even playing. It is a pastime, a diversion, a distraction from the important aspects of life. Does this lack of moral import obviate, even to a degree, the moral problem with Schadenfreude?

Utilitarianism sees the overall effect as morally relevant, but what about questions of virtue? Does being a jerk about something unimportant excuse you at all for being a jerk? Does it make you less of a jerk if people know that morally they can count on you to be serious and upstanding when the chips are really down?