Why Virtue Matters
Chapter 4: Habits, Moral Capital’s Compound Interest
The ethical value of an action derives from the knowledge and consent with which it is performed. An act acquires human significance and counts as moral capital only to the extent that it involves both the intelligence and the will of an agent. An individual assumes responsibility for actions carried out according to a plan or intention he has defined as well as for actions carried out by others at his bidding. Something analogous occurs within a corporation or any other organization. At times it may be difficult to determine the degree of knowledge and consent that accompany an act. We know that in principle, actions just don’t occur by themselves; rather, they are the fruit of deliberate efforts on the part of identifiable human agents. However, it is possible that in a concrete instance an action comes about as the result of accident or chance. For example, although typing a document on a computer is a human act that entails both understanding and will, one’s fingers may slip on the keyboard and produce an error, such as a misspelled word. Normally, we tend to take such mistakes lightly. Yet when a mistake is repeated often we begin to have second thoughts. We tell ourselves that it probably wasn’t an occasional slip of the finger, but an ingrained cognitive error on the part of the typist. The frequency with which an action is carried out, therefore, bears a significance of its own. It could dispel doubts as to whether a...
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