Virtue and Salience

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Abstract: This paper explores two ways in which evaluations of an agent's character as virtuous or vicious are properly influenced by what the agent finds salient or attention-grabbing. First, we argue that ignoring salient needs reveals a greater deficit of benevolent motivation in the agent, and hence renders the agent more blameworthy. We use this fact to help explain our ordinary intuition that failing to give to famine relief (for example) is in some sense less bad than failing to help a child who is drowning right before your eyes, in a way that's compatible with the contention that there's no principled reason to see the one life-saving act as any more or less choiceworthy than the other. Second, we argue that alleged ‘virtues of ignorance’ (modesty, believing better of friends than the evidence supports, etc.) are better understood as ‘virtues of salience’. Rather than placing demands on what we believe, these virtues place demands on what we find salient.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-463
Number of pages15
JournalAustralasian Journal of Philosophy
Issue number3
Early online date29 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2015 Australasian Association of Philosophy. This is an author produced version of a paper published in Australasian Journal of Philosophy. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.


  • attention
  • benevolence
  • friendship
  • modesty
  • salience
  • virtue

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