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Arts & Letters Daily


6c. Motive - English teacher


Not all virtues are moral virtues


Duty. “Do I have any obligations beyond my responsibilities to teach my English classes?” pondered Mrs. Wall, a second year teacher at Jason Secondary School. “I’m quite clear about my responsibilities; they are outlined in the contract I signed with my school district. But, I’m not so clear about my obligations. Can my Principal obligate me to assume tasks not covered by my contract? I get the feeling he can. It’s a somewhat delicate question; that’s why I am reluctant to ask her about it. Who can I ask?”

Rights. This issue came up at a staff meeting recently. The History teacher, Mr. Beatty, argued that it was not legitimate for the Principal to assign unilaterally whatever duties to any staff person. He had neither a legal or moral right to do so. Needless to say, this created some tension between the teacher and the Principal who felt could use his discretion in assigning duties since he was responsible for managing all school affairs.

Motive. Mr. Beatty, including the rest of the staff, never doubted the Principal’s motive. His actions clearly reflect moral virtues such as honesty, respect and thoughtfulness. In other words, he is motivated by a tendency, or disposition to do what is the right thing to do. On this one issue, some staff members felt the Principal was somewhat misguided.


  • How might the Principal apply his disposition to do what is the right thing to do to this issue? Explain.
  • Discuss some virtues that are not moral virtues.
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view about moral virtues

  • Crooked thinking

All virtues are moral virtues.

  • Straight thinking

Not all virtues are moral virtues. For example, wit (i.e., quickness of thought) is regarded as an intellectual virtue and not a moral virtue. On the other hand, some virtues, like truthfulness, are regarded as moral virtues. Of course, it can be regarded as a moral virtue only if telling the truth is the right thing to do. It is regarded a moral virtue because it refers to a propensity, tendency, or disposition to do what is the right thing to do. In short, a moral virtue is a disposition to do what is right from morally good motives. A virtuous act is a manifestation of this propensity.

Moral principle value tests

An application of the moral principle value tests probably illustrates most clearly what is entailed in evaluative reasoning. They are:

It is important to emphasize that the moral-value principle tests are not designed to resolve issues (guarantee right answers!) but to assess the ‘justification’ for moral value decisions.

To view the Dilemma from the perspective of Duty, Rights, Motives, Desert and Justice, click the following:

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