Complex Harmony: Rethinking the Virtue-Continence Distinction.

Nick Schuster, Washington University in St. Louis

Abstract: In the Aristotelian tradition, the psychological difference between virtue and continence is commonly understood in terms of inner harmony versus inner conflict. Virtuous agents experience inner harmony between feeling and action because they do not care to do other than what their circumstances call for, whereas continent agents feel conflicted about doing what is called for because of competing concerns. Critics of this view argue, however, that when the circumstances require sacrificing something of genuine value, virtuous agents can indeed feel conflicted about acting well. But if this is so, what differentiates virtuous from merely continent agency? This essay argues that the traditional distinction conflates two aspects of virtue as well as two species of continence. And distinguishing between them provides resources for making sense of the complex relationship between inner conflict and good moral agency.