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IIT. H.

IRWIN

NIL ADMIRARI? USES

AND

ABUSES

OF

ADMIRATION

Both Plato and Aristotle have something to say about admiration. But in
order to know where to look, and in order to appreciate the force of their
remarks, we need to sketch a little of the ethical background that they presuppose. I begin, therefore, with ancient Greek ethics in the wider sense,
and discuss the treatment of admiration and related attitudes by Homer,
Herodotus, and other pre-Platonic sources. Then I turn to the views of
Plato, Adam Smith, Aristotle and Cicero. This order of discussion allows
us to see why admiration is both morally significant and, in some respects,
morally unreliable.

I
Questions about Admiration. Im grateful to Linda Zagzebski
(2015) for drawing my attention to some questions about admiration that I had been unaware of or only dimly aware of. One of the
topics that she introduces is historical, about the treatment of admiration by Plato and Aristotle. The second topic is about the epistemology of metaphysics of admiration and its relation to correct
moral judgement.
Ill take most of my time to discuss the relevant historical points,
since some of the evidence needs to be set out at some length. At the
end Ill say a word on the philosophical points, in the hope that the
historical argument will make them a little clearer.
Near the beginning of her paper Zagzebski makes an intriguing
comment:
It appears to me that Plato and Aristotle also neglected admiration,
and if so, the neglect of admiration is not merely a modern phenomenon that can be remedied by a more careful study of ancient Greek ethics. (Zagzebski 2015, p. 206)

This comment invites some questions:


(1) Is the claim about Plato and Aristotle true?
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(2) Is the claim about ancient Greek ethics true? This question
is distinct from the question about Plato and Aristotle, because the inference contained in Zagzebskis if so is open
to doubt. For even if she is right about Plato and Aristotle,
it doesnt follow that we cant remedy the modern neglect
of admiration by studying ancient Greek ethics. Even if we
confine ancient Greek ethics to moral philosophy, it contains a lot more than Plato and Aristotle.
(3) If we understand ethics to include ethical thought that is
not moral philosophy, how much can we learn about admiration from ancient Greek ethics?
Zagzebski does not elaborate further on her claim that Plato neglects admiration. She says a little more on Aristotle:
I find it surprising that he discusses neither the emotion of admiration
nor the evaluative category of the admirable, when one would think
that it would be the natural thing to do. It would be natural in his theoretical discussion of virtue, and it would be even more natural in his
discussion of the way virtue is acquired. (Zagzebski 2015, pp. 2067)

I dont altogether disagree with this claim. It is quite true that we


cant point to a section of the ethical treatises or of the Rhetoric in
which Aristotle discusses admiration as explicitly as he discusses
other emotions. But I dont think it follows that Aristotle altogether
neglects admiration.
Both Plato and Aristotle have something to say about admiration.
But in order to know where to look, and in order to appreciate the
force of their remarks, we need to sketch a little of the ethical background that they presuppose. And so I will say a word on the historical questions I mentioned. I begin with ancient Greek ethics in the
wider sense. Then I will then turn to the views of some philosophers, Plato, Adam Smith, Aristotle and Cicero. Ill explain this order of treatment at the proper time.

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II
Questions about Admiration. Where should we look if we want to
find what ancient Greek ethics has to say about admiration?
Though I would not want philosophy to be led astray by lexicography, I begin with the English word admire and its derivation from
the Latin admirari, i.e. wonder or be amazed. The first definition of admiration offered by OED is: The action or an act of
wondering or marvelling; wonder, astonishment, surprise. Now
rare. This sense explains the older description of an exclamation
point (!) as a note of admiration. The second definition is more familiar to us: Regard for someone or something considered praiseworthy or excellent; esteem, approbation; appreciation. Also: a
feeling or expression of this.1 A similar range of senses can be found
in the Latin word. The facts about Greek are a little less straightforward. The Greek term that corresponds to admirari is thaumazein. Among the senses mentioned in the dictionary are
wonder, be surprised, be amazed, marvel, and admire.2 The
corresponding adjective thaumaston has a similar range of senses.
We can roughly distinguish the two senses of admire in English
by remarking that the second sense conveys a favourable attitude
that is absent from the first. If I look at a garden after a barbecue,
full of beer cans, cigarette butts, half-eaten hamburgers, and so on, I
may be surprised and amazed that it is in such a mess. In the archaic
sense I might admire the garden in front of me, but in the usual
modern sense I dont admire it at all. As Ruskin says, admiration includes discerning and taking delight in something. In the Greek
thaumazein, however, it is harder to see a distinct sense that includes a positive attitude to the object of wonder. I agree with the
dictionary that thaumazein can be used to refer to admiration. But
the relevant evidence suggests to me that the different uses do not
introduce distinct senses. I will try to support this suggestion with a
few examples. To show when I am talking about instances of thaumazein, I will use wonder, when be surprised, be amazed might
also be appropriate.
1

The first example (from 1481) is taken from a translation of Ciceros De Amicitia, where
admiration renders admiratio. An illustration of this sense from Ruskin describes admiration as the power of discerning and taking delight in what is beautiful in visible Form,
and lovely in human Character.
2
See Liddell, Scott and Jones, s.v.
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III
Different Types of Wonder in Homer: Hector and Priam. Homer often uses the formulaic phrase, a wonder to behold (thauma
idesthai) for a wide variety of things. One of the greatest wonders is
the shield of Achilles, the work of the metallurgical god Hephaestus.
Almost a whole book of the Iliad is taken up with a description of
this shield. The description is evidently intended to arouse and intensify wonder. One especially remarkable feature of it is its conveying the appearance of ploughed fields on its gold surface (Iliad
18.549). But the wonder is not simply about the shield. Hephaestus
does not make the shield to hang in a museum, but to be used by
Achilles. Achilles takes pleasure in gazing at his new armour, such as
a man never carried before (Iliad 19.10120). The wonder aroused
by the shield is intended to increase our wonder at its bearer. This
sort of wonder, we may say, is completely non-moral. It is not clearly distinct from admiration. The shield is not only strange and unfamiliar, and a matter for wonder in that sense, but also an admirable
display of the craftsmans skill. Moreover, when Achilles carries it,
he is not simply noticed, but also admired. His wearing this sort of
armour shows that he is someone extraordinary and remarkable.
We can see a transition from one sort of wonder to another sort in
Book 24 of the Iliad. Priam and Achilles meet for the first time when
Priam comes to ask for the body of Hector. Priam arrives, takes hold
of Achilles knees, and kisses his hands, in the standard gestures of
the suppliant. Everyone looks at him with wonder, similar to the
wonder that people feel when they encounter a murderer who has
escaped and is looking for protection from his pursuers.3 This is a
strange comparison because Priam is compared to the fugitive murderer who escapes to a foreign land, whereas in fact Achilles is the
killer and the foreigner.4 The strangeness of this comparison should
at least make it clear that the wonder felt by the onlookers when Priam arrives is not moral admiration. We might be amazed by the sudden appearance of a fugitive, but we dont immediately admire him.
Suppliants provoke wonder elsewhere in Homer (e.g. Odyssey
3

And as when dark delusion comes on a man, who in his own land has killed someone, and
has fled to another people, to the house of a rich man, and amazement (thambos) grips
those those who look on him, so Achilles was amazed when he saw godlike Priam, and the
others also in amazement looked at at one another (Homer, Iliad 24.4804).
4
See Macleod (1982) and Richardson (1993, ad loc.).
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7.1445), but they can hardly be objects of admiration before anyone knows what they have come to ask for.
But it would be too simple to say that wonder is simply amazement at something strange and unfamiliar. Even in our present passages Achilles wonders at godlike Priam; something is impressive
even in Priams appearance.5 After they have formed a bond of sympathy, they look at each other again, and wonder at each other.6
Here one critic speaks, quite appropriately, of the mutual admiration of the two heroes (Richardson 1993). They do not admire exactly the same things about each other. Priam admires Achilles godlike strength and beauty. Achilles admires something about Priams
appearance (opsin tagathn), but also something that he has said
(muthon akoun). Priams simple and direct appeal for Hectors
body, expressed without fear of Achilles, without anger, and without exaggerated emotion, has aroused Achilles sympathy, and his
admiration for Priam. The wonder that Achilles feels for Priam is
perhaps not exactly moral admiration, but it is not wholly non-moral either.
I dont suggest that we should translate thaumazein or its cognates by wonder or be amazed when Achilles wonders at Priams
first appearance, and then translate it by admire when they wonder
at each other later on in their meeting. On the contrary, we would
miss part of Homers point if we did not use the same word and did
not recognize that it is the same emotion on both occasions. Achilles
still wonders at Priam, but, once they have established some sympathy and mutual understanding, he finds something different to wonder at. We might say that Achilles wonder on the second occasion
now constitutes admiration.

Macleod says, The epithet is more than a generic and decorative one. Richardson agrees.
And when they had eaten and drunk their fill, then Priam, son of Dardanus, wondered
(thaumaz) at Achilles, how tall he was and how he lookedfor he was like the gods to
behold. And Achilles wondered at Priam, son of Dardanus, looking on his noble appearance and hearing his words (Homer, Iliad 24.62832).
6

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IV
Herodotus: Great and Wonderful Works. Whether or not we are
persuaded that wonder turns into admiration in the last book of the
Iliad, the Homeric examples help us to understand Herodotus
numerous remarks about wonder and the wonderful. The importance of wonder is marked by the Homeric expressions in the introduction.7 His intention in this work is to preserve from oblivion the
great and wonderful works (megala kai thmasta erga) of the
Greeks and the barbarians, especially in the wars between the Persians and the Greeks. When Herodotus speaks of great and wonderful works, he implies that these recent exploits deserve to be
recorded just as the great deeds of the Homeric heroes were recorded in the epic poems, because they deserve the sort of renown (kleos) that Homer has given to the events he records.
What are the megala kai thmasta erga that Herodotus has in
mind?
(1) As elsewhere, ergon is best rendered by work in English,
because it includes both products of human action (as in
public works and works of art) and human actions
themselves (Asheri et al. 2007, p. 9n.). Herodotus regards
works of both types as suitable objects of wonder.
(2) Great and wonderful works are not confined to the Greeks,
but also belong to the barbarians, just as they do in the Iliad.
Herodotus is not parochial in his outlook, and in this respect
wonder is impartial and disinterested. He describes some of
the institutions and customs of the Egyptians and Persians
with appreciation and admiration; he does not dismiss them
because they are different from what the Greeks do.
This introduction does not mention a further class of wonders that
Herodotus describes for the pleasure and instruction of his readers.
These are the wonders of the natural world, including those recounted in the travellers tales from the distant corners of the earth.
They are not candidates for admiration.
7

This is the exposition of the inquiry of Herodotus the Halicarnassian, in order that what
came about may not be erased from human beings by time, and in order that the great and
wonderful works of both Greeks and foreigners may not come to be without fame, and
especially the reason why they went to war against each other (Herodotus, Histories i.1).

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Does he, then, recognize great and wonderful works that he takes
to be admirable? To see which works these might be, we should not
confine ourselves to instances of thmazein. Since Herodotus
wrote his history to preserve the memory of great and wonderful
works, we can assume that he includes among these works those to
which he calls special attention as being remarkable and worth remembering. How many of these does he represent as wonderful because they are admirable?
Some of the wonders that result from human effort are remarkable in the same way, because they are strange and unfamiliar. This is
especially true of wonderful works on a large scale. The Persian
army was enormous (Histories vii.21). Xerxes dug a canal through
Mount Athos (vii.234), because he thought on a grand scale (megalophrosuns heineken, vii.24.1). He built a bridge of boats across
the Hellespont, and lashed the sea when a storm swept the bridge
away (vii.336). These works are remarkable, but they are not
wholly admirable; Herodotus presents them as signs of Xerxes arrogance and presumption.
But sometimes Herodotus also regards a remarkable thing as admirable. He remarks that democracy (literally, equal speaking, isgoria) is a good thing in many ways, because, for instance, it inspired
the Athenians to fight more vigorously, so that they defeated forces
that had previously defeated the Athenians in their pre-democratic
period (Histories v.78).
Some of the great works are those of the Greeks, greatly outnumbered by the invaders, and certainly not always successful. The
Spartan Demaratus tells Xerxes the secret of the Greeks success;
they are free, not like the subjects of the Persian king, but they agree
to limit their freedom by reverence for law.8 This reverence for law
is displayed in failure as well as in success. The three hundred Spartans who were killed at Thermopylae stood firm out of respect for
the laws of Sparta. The different qualities of actions that may make
them great and wonderful works are brought out in one of Herodotus significant comments. After Thermopylae he pauses for a
conversation between the Persians. They are amazed to hear that the
8

Hearing that, Xerxes laughed, and said, What an absurd thing to say (hoion ephthenxao
epos), Demaratus, that a thousand men should fight with an army like this one! To this
Demaratus answered Being free, they are not wholly free; for law is master over them,
whom they fear much more than your men fear you; for what it orders them, they do, and it
always orders the same thing, that they must never flee from the battle before whatsoever
odds, but stand firm in the line and either conquer or die (Herodotus, Histories vii.1034).

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Greeks compete at the Olympics to prove their excellence (aret)


rather than to enrich themselves.9
Perhaps these few examples in Herodotus of great and wonderful
works will suggest how misguided it would be to argue either that
admiration is a moral attitude or that it is wholly non-moral. It
would be nearer the truth, though certainly much too crude, to argue that it contains non-moral and moral elements on different occasions. The behaviour of the three hundred Spartans, or of the
Athenians who agreed to abandon their city and take to the ships, is
on a relatively small scale, but it displays respect for the law that we
find inspiring rather than simply surprising.
The various idiomatic uses of amazing, incredible, tremendous, marvellous, wonderful and awesome in modern English
help to illustrate the relevant point about the thaumaston. Herodotus term extends beyond the initial attitude of amazement, which
contains no positive evaluation, to wonder that rests on positive
evaluation of something remarkable, to wonder that rests on positive evaluation from a moral point of view. In the last two cases we
can speak of admiration as well as of wonder.

V
Why Admiration is Unreliable. These examples from Homer and
Herodotus give us some idea of the scope and range of admiration,
as we find it in Greek literature of the fifth and fourth century. The
main point I want to draw from them is the undifferentiated character of admiration. Even when it contains positive evaluation as well
as surprise or wonder, it may be evoked by different sorts of actions
and qualities. Achilles is a striking example of a remarkable character who is an object of admiration for his various heroic qualities.
Ajax is another such character. The features that make him admirable deserve some attention.
In some respects Sophocles Ajax presents an unfavourable pic9

A few deserters, men of Arcadia, arrived, lacking a livelihood and wanting to find some
work. Bringing them before the king, the Persians inquired of them what the Greeks were
doing, The Arcadians said the Greeks were keeping the Olympic festival The Persian
asked what prize they were competing for, and the Arcadians said it was the crown of olive
that was given. Then Tigranes son of Artabanus stated a most noble opinion Alas
(papai) Mardonius, what sort of men have you led us to fight, who do not engage in a contest for wealth but for excellence (arets)? (Herodotus, Histories viii.26).

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ture of Ajax and a favourable picture of Odysseus. Ajax cannot bear


having lost to Odysseus when the Greeks awarded the arms of
Achilles to someone whom Achilles regarded as so far inferior to
him. His murderous revenge is prevented only by his insanity, his recovery of his senses, and his suicide. Odysseus is a far more attractive figure than the other men in the drama, who are out for revenge
no less than Ajax was. Odysseus is generous in his appreciation of
Ajax, and eventually talks the others out of their plans for revenge.
We might conclude that Odysseus is the admirable character in this
drama, and that he amply justifies the decision of the Greeks to
award the arms of Achilles to him.
This conclusion, however, would be too simple. For Ajax is still
admirable, not only because of his past exploits, but also because of
his vindictive and unyielding attitude in the present. He is not to be
wholly condemned for his stubborn adherence to his friendships and
his hatreds, or for his refusal to adapt to changed circumstances. He
is not wholly wrong to refuse to make the best of a bad situation. The
same is true of Medea, who has some of the characteristics of Ajax.
He planned unsuccessfully to kill the other Greek leaders. She plans
successfully to kill her children to take revenge on Jason, who in this
case presents an unattractive version of the attitude of Odysseus. Medeas thoughts and actions are terrible. Despite them, or rather partly
because of them, she is remarkable, and in some respects admirable.
The examples of Ajax and Medea suggest that if we take the admirable character as our moral ideal, we will go astray. I do not
want to say that Odysseus in the Ajax is not admirable in his way.
But I do not think it follows from his being right against Ajax that
Sophocles and his readers think he is more admirable than Ajax. To
see that admiration is morally ambiguous we do not have to apply
our own moral standards, or those of Plato and Aristotle. Sophocles
and his audience notice the ambiguity. Ajax and Medea are great
and remarkable, and so it is difficult to withhold admiration from
them, even if we recognize that they are not the neighbours or fellow citizens we would want.
In these examples from tragedy I have not been relying on occurrences of thaumazein. I have suggested that, in the light of what we
have learnt about thaumazein and its objects from Homer and
Herodotus, these tragic characters are likely to have been objects of
thaumazein for their audience. They are presented as surprising, remarkable, and, in the ways I have described, also admirable.
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VI
Socrates and Achilles. What, then, do Plato and Aristotle think
about admiration for these heroic but dangerous people? The first
part of my answer relies on Socrates attitude to Achilles. The Platonic Socrates is familiar with the common view, endorsed by Hippias at the beginning of the Hippias Minor, that Achilles is a greater
hero than Odysseus.10 In the dialogue that follows, Socrates casts
some doubt on this comparative judgement.
In the Apology, Socrates relies on the same popular view of Achilles. He imagines someone asking him why he is willing to risk death
in order to stick to his principles. Socrates answers by quoting
Achilles.11 As Socrates quotes and paraphrases him, Achilles is ready
to die on the spot as soon as he can fulfil the demands of justice.
Socrates agrees with this whole-hearted commitment to justice. But
he attributes this commitment to Achilles only by putting Socratic
words into Achilles mouth. The Homeric Achilles does indeed say
May I die on the spot! (autika tethnain), but he says nothing
about justice. He is willing to die as soon as he has avenged the
death of Patroclus; he wants revenge, not justice.12
Socrates rewriting of Homer is easy to understand in the light of
what we have said about admiration. Achilles is the supremely admirable hero. In the Iliad he does not always keep the readers approval; his original withdrawal from the battlefield is not blamed,
10

Indeed, Eudicus, I would be pleased to learn from Hippias about what he was saying just
now about Homer. For I also have heard your father, Apemantus, say that the Iliad is a finer
composition by Homer than the Odyssey, and finer to the extent that Achilles is better than
Odysseus (Plato, Hip. Mi. 363ab).
11
But perhaps someone will say, Arent you ashamed, Socrates, at having engaged in a
practice from which you are now in danger of death? I might justly reply: What you say is
not fine, if you think that a man who is any use at all ought to give any weight to living or
dying a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of
life and death, and ought not to consider that one thing, whether his actions are just or
unjust, and the works of a good man or a bad. For, on your account, all the demigods who
died at Troy would be base, especially the son of Thetis, who looked down so much on danger, in comparison with undergoing anything shameful, that when his mother said to him, in
his eagerness to Hector, something like thisMy son, if you avenge the death of your
comrade Patroclus and kill Hector, you will die yourself For at once (she says) after Hector, death is ready for you; he, hearing this, thought little of death and danger, but being
much more afraid of living while being base and of not avenging friends. Let me die forthwith, he says, when I have imposed justice on the one who has done injustice, so that that
I may not stay here by the beaked ships a laughing-stock, and a burden on the earth
(Plato, Apology 28bd).
12
One might seek to punish an offender for the sake of justice, and so one might have Socrates
reason to say what Achilles says. But this is not the reason the Homeric Achilles gives.
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but his rejection of the embassy from Agamemnon (including Odysseus) is presented unfavourably. He is partly to blame for the death
of Patroclus. But when he returns to the battle, he does not apologize; it is Agamemnon who partly apologizes to him.
Socrates sees, then, that if we recall the Iliad, we admire Achilles
for the wrong reasons. We admire his jealousy of his own honour
and status, and his single-minded pursuit of revenge for the death of
his friend. In Socrates view, we are right to admire single-mindedness in pursuit of the right goal, and so he attributes to Achilles the
goal that would justify his single-minded attitude. The character
that deserves most admiration is not the character of the Homeric
Achilles, but the character of someone who has accepted entirely
different aims from those of Achilles and is single-minded in the
pursuit of them.
Reflection on this passage shows us why Socrates and Plato believe that admiration is a dangerous attitude. Homer, Herodotus and
Sophocles give us good reasons to believe that Socrates contemporaries admire the wrong things. This admiration is all the more dangerous because it is not entirely misguided. Achilles singlemindedness and Ajaxs pride are sometimes appropriate to the circumstances. But Achilles and Ajax do not reliably recognize the circumstances that make their attitudes appropriate; nor do the people
who admire these attitudes.

VII
Platos Republic and Misguided Admiration. If I were to trace Platos treatment of admiration for heroic characters and patterns of
behaviour, I would have to say quite a lot about his treatment of
Homer, his remarks on moral education, and several other parts of
the argument of the Republic. But I will confine myself to some significant places where he uses thaumazein, since they give us quite a
good idea of his views.
The attitudes connected with wonder and admiration belong to
the spirited part of the soul. And so it is not surprising that people
who are guided primarily by their spirited parts are also unreliable
because they are liable to mistakes in admiration. When the ideal
state has begun to decline, people start to admire the wrong things,
and therefore start to be ashamed about circumstances that are
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nothing to be ashamed of.13 These people are inappropriately concerned about honour and status, and this is the basis of their admiration and shame.
In the Laws, Plato takes this outlook based on honour and shame
as the starting point for his argument about virtue. He attributes it
to the Spartans, and he criticizes them for having confined themselves to only one part of virtue without understanding that it is
only one part. What they admire is close to bravery. But it is not
genuine bravery that they admire, because they do not understand
its relation to the rest of virtue.
This last point should help to explain what I mean in speaking of
misguided admiration. I am not saying that, according to Sophocles
or Plato, the qualities for which Ajax is admired do not deserve admiration. We would not be wrong to admire him in the way we
would be wrong to admire the tyrant Phalaris because he had managed to kill so many people. We are misguided in so far as we admire
the qualities of Ajax more than we should, and we admire other
qualities less, though they deserve more admiration. In Platos view,
our normal tendencies to admire great and remarkable people are
misguided only because they mislead us about which qualities are
most admirable.
In the light of this survey of evidence from Greek ethics, what
should we say about the relation between moral judgements and
the proper function of the disposition to admiration (as Zagzebski
puts it)? Plato is familiar with people who tend to admire the range
of actions and people who strike them as great and remarkable in
the various ways I have described. Admiration may be aroused by
great wealth, power, bravery, pride, stubbornness, justice, integrity,
and so on. Does this range of admiration belong to the proper function of the relevant disposition? I find it difficult to say what is improper about the functioning of the disposition to admire.
One might reply that it is not so difficult to say what is improper
13

Now when wealth and wealthy people are honoured in a city, virtue and good people are
more dishonoured And so finally they become lovers of acquisition and of possessions,
and they praise and admire (thaumazousi) a rich person and lead him to ruling offices, but
dishonour a poor person (Plato, Republic 551ab).
And the rational and the spirited [parts] he allows, in the one case, to reason or examined about nothing else but about how to get more money from less, and, in the other
case, to admire (thaumazein) and honour nothing except wealth and wealthy people
(Plato, Republic 553d).
These are the ones he treats as friends and trustworthy men, having lost those previous
ones And these companions, indeed, admire him (Plato, Republic 568a).
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about the functioning of the disposition to admire if it is activated


by Achilles or Ajax or Croesus. Perhaps it is an improper function if
one admires something that it is morally inappropriate to admire, or
to admire as much as we do. We might attribute this view to Plato in
the Republic; perhaps he thinks admiration for wealth is warped
and inappropriate admiration in so far as it admires wealth more
than is morally appropriate. This moralized conception of proper
admiration identifies the proper function of the disposition to admire with the morally appropriate exercise. But if this is how we explain the proper function, we can hardly define correct moral
judgement by reference to the proper function of admiration. The
order of definition will be the other way round.

VIII
Smith: The Corruption of Admiration. It may be useful to expand
my comments on the proper and improper function of the disposition to admire, by turning to Adam Smith. Among the British moralists he has the fullest and most thoughtful discussion. Shaftesbury
often speaks of admiration, in terms that are familiar from Cicero.
Hutcheson and Hume speak in similar terms, but without analysis.
Since admiration has a large role in Smiths account of the moral
sentiments, he treats it more carefully and self-consciously.
His discussion shows that the tendency to admire what is astonishing, great and impressive is not a peculiarity of Greek ethics. First, he
notices that admiration is not simply approval, the positive attitude
that results from disinterested sympathy with, for example, some
trait of character. Admiration requires something out of the ordinary.14 When he mentions wonder and surprise Smith recognizes the
connection between admire and admirari that I have already men14
For approbation heightened by wonder and surprise, constitutes the sentiment which is
properly called admiration, and of which applause is the natural expression. The decision of
the man who judges that exquisite beauty is preferable to the grossest deformity, or that
twice two are equal to four, must certainly be approved of by all the world, but will not,
surely, be much admired. It is the acute and delicate discernment of the man of taste, who
distinguishes the minute, and scarce perceptible differences of beauty and deformity; it is the
comprehensive accuracy of the experienced mathematician, who unravels, with ease, the
most intricate and perplexed proportions; it is the great leader in science and taste, the man
who directs and conducts our own sentiments, the extent and superior justness of whose talents astonish us with wonder and surprise, who excites our admiration, and seems to
deserve our applause (Smith 1759, i.1.4.3, pp. 1920).

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tioned. He remarks that admiration is distinct from any belief about


the utility of the object of admiration, either to oneself or to others.15
The wonder and surprise that are excited by superiority explain our
admiration for people who display self-command in circumstances
where most people would find it difficult. In this connection Smith
mentions the steadfastness of Cato.16
But our tendency to admire what is great and impressive leads us
into attitudes that Smith describes as the corruption of our moral
sentiments. He observes that we admire people of great wealth and
high social status whether or not we benefit from them.17 This admiration is unwarranted, because it should only be given to morally
15

The utility of those qualities, it may be thought, is what first recommends them to us; and,
no doubt, the consideration of this, when we come to attend to it, gives them a new value.
Originally, however, we approve of another mans judgement, not as something useful, but
as right, as accurate, as agreeable to truth and reality: and it is evident we attribute those
qualities to it for no other reason but because we find that it agrees with our own. Taste, in
the same manner, is originally approved of, not as useful, but as just, as delicate, and as precisely suited to its object. The idea of the utility of all qualities of this kind, is plainly an
after-thought, and not what first recommends them to our approbation (Smith 1759,
i.1.4.3, p. 20).
16
The little sympathy which we feel with bodily pain is the foundation of the propriety of constancy and patience in enduring it. We admire and entirely go along with the magnanimous
effort which he makes for this purpose. We approve of his behaviour, and from our experience
of the common weakness of human nature, we are surprised, and wonder how he should be
able to act so as to deserve approbation. Approbation, mixed and animated by wonder and
surprise, constitutes the sentiment which is properly called admiration, of which, applause is
the natural expression, as has already been observed (Smith 1759, i.2.1.12, pp. 301).
We wonder with surprise and astonishment at that strength of mind which is capable of
so noble and generous an effort. The sentiment of complete sympathy and approbation,
mixed and animated with wonder and surprise, constitutes what is properly called admiration, as has already been more than once taken notice of. Cato, surrounded on all sides by
his enemies, unable to resist them, disdaining to submit to them, and reduced, by the proud
maxims of that age, to the necessity of destroying himself; yet never shrinking from his
misfortunes, appears to Seneca, that great preacher of insensibility, a spectacle which
even the gods themselves might behold with pleasure and admiration (Smith 1759,
i.3.1.13, p. 48).
17
Upon this disposition of mankind, to go along with all the passions of the rich and the
powerful, is founded the distinction of ranks, and the order of society. Our obsequiousness
to our superiors more frequently arises from our admiration for the advantages of their situation, than from any private expectations of benefit from their good-will (Smith 1759,
i.3.2.3, p. 52).
This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to
establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same
time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments. That
wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due
only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only
proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the
complaint of moralists in all ages (Smith 1759, i.3.3.1, pp. 612).
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appropriate qualities, and it is not appropriate for wealth and status


in their own right. According to Smith, we tend to admire the wrong
people because we want not only to deserve respect but also to be
respected, and we notice that wealth and status tend to gain respect.18 Since we value the respect and attention that rich and powerful people receive, we tend to treat them with respect and to
admire them.
We might be inclined to question Smiths description of our tendency to admire different people. In particular, we might deny that
our admiration for powerful and successful people is really admiration in the same sense as our admiration for wisdom and virtue. In
the first sense we might admire spectacular success and achievement, but this is not the same as the admiration that includes moral
approval. Does Smith simply confuse two distinct attitudes?
He agrees that the attitudes are not exactly the same, but he replies that the difference between them does not affect his main
point.19 First he suggests that if we respect both virtue and high status, our respect is none the less of different types, though we may
not always notice the difference. But he also suggests that high status receives our respect, even though we acknowledge that it does
not deserve it. If we agree with him that the two types of respect are
different, it is not clear why status might not deserve one sort of
respectthe sort that we feel for wisdom and virtue. He seems to
vacillate between recognizing two types of respect and recognizing
only one.
18

We desire both to be respectable and to be respected. We dread both to be contemptible


and to be contemned. But, upon coming into the world, we soon find that wisdom and virtue are by no means the sole objects of respect; nor vice and folly, of contempt. Two different characters are presented to our emulation; the one, of proud ambition and
ostentatious avidity, the other, of humble modesty and equitable justice. They are the
wise and the virtuous chiefly, a select, though, I am afraid, but a small party, who are the
real and steady admirers of wisdom and virtue. The great mob of mankind are the admirers
and worshippers, and, what may seem more extraordinary, most frequently the disinterested admirers and worshippers, of wealth and greatness (Smith 1759, i.3.3.2, p. 62).
19
The respect which we feel for wisdom and virtue is, no doubt, different from that which
we conceive for wealth and greatness; and it requires no very nice discernment to distinguish the difference. But, notwithstanding this difference, those sentiments bear a very considerable resemblance to one another. In some particular features they are, no doubt,
different, but, in the general air of the countenance, they seem to be so very nearly the same,
that inattentive observers are very apt to mistake the one for the other. It is scarce agreeable to good morals, or even to good language, perhaps, to say, that mere wealth and greatness, abstracted from merit and virtue, deserve our respect. We must acknowledge,
however, that they almost constantly obtain it; and that they may, therefore, be considered
as, in some respects, the natural objects of it (Smith 1759, i.3.3.3, pp. 623).
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Smith seems to offer to explain how we allow the same sort of respect to status and to virtue. We think of status as providing some
basis for admiration; it can be cancelled by extreme vice, but we are
always ready to make a considerable allowance for it. Smith believes
that we take this indulgent attitude to wealth and status because we
are in general prone to admire success rather than commendable efforts that fail.20 Even if we believe A is wiser and better than B, we
still tend to admire B more than A if we believe B is more successful
than A. Since we admire successful virtue, we still admire success
even if it is not connected with virtue. This comparison implies that
we accord A and B different degrees of the same admiration.
It is not clear to me, then, that Smith takes a consistent view
about admiration and respect. The tendency to admire greatness,
marked by social status, wealth and power is a corruption of our
moral sentiments only if it causes us to accord to these qualities a
higher degree of the same admiration that we accord to virtue and
wisdom. But if the moral sentiment of admiration is a different attitude from our admiration for social status and so on, why should
the second type of admiration cause the corruption of our moral
sentiments?
I do not believe Smiths argument can be dismissed so easily. It
seems to me that he has identified a genuine difficulty in admiration.
Even if our admiration for someones virtue is a different type of admiration from our admiration for their success and superiority, it
can still be compared with the latter type, and we can still ask what
we admire more in people. If we admire superior people very
strongly, and we admire virtuous people very weakly, we may value
superior people more than we value virtuous people. If Smith is
right, our admiration for superiority corrupts our moral sentiments
not by directing moral admiration to the wrong objects, but by
swamping moral admiration with admiration for superiority.
If this is what Smith means, or even if he doesnt mean it, but
should have meant it, he points out a reason for some distrust of
admiration as a guide to morality. It may be directed to the morally
20

It mortifies an architect when his plans are either not executed at all, or when they are so
far altered as to spoil the effect of the building. The plan, however, is all that depends upon
the architect. But their effects are still vastly different, and the amusement derived from
the first, never approaches to the wonder and admiration which are sometimes excited by
the second. The superiority of virtues and talents has not, even upon those who acknowledge that superiority, the same effect with the superiority of achievements (Smith 1759,
ii.3.2.3, p. 99).
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appropriate objects, but if it is also directed towards objects that


may turn us away from morality, it may mislead us. This conclusion will not surprise us if we recall the various objects of thaumazein in Greek and of admirari in Latin. The people whom
Plato describes in Republic viii admire highly objects that they
should admire only slightly, and do not admire the objects they
ought to admire most. They illustrate well the attitudes towards
wealth and power that Smith describes among types of admiration.
Smith points out to us that admiration inherits some of the various
objects that we found for the attitudes designated by the Greek and
Latin verbs. He does not treat admiration as mere wonder or surprise. It is also an impartial appreciation that conveys a favourable
evaluation of something remarkable. But this evaluative aspect of
admiration includes much more than moral evaluation, and in
many people it may relegate moral sentiments to a relatively minor
place.

IX
Aristotles Doubts about Admiration. We can now understand Aristotles references to admiration. When we place them against the
background I have sketched, they turn out to be more significant
than their brevity might lead us to expect.
He describes the ostentatious and vulgar person who lacks the
virtue of magnificence in spending large amounts of money on public works. His spending for public and for private objects reveals his
desire to be an object of thaumazein.21 It is plausible to render thaumazein by admire here. The ostentatious person does not simply
want people to be amazed at his extravagance; he wants them to
think better of him, and to appreciate his conspicuous expenditure
for the public benefit. Aristotle does not suggest he is indifferent to
the public good. But his main concern is not the public good, but
the admiration he hopes for. Aristotle recognizes that thaumazein is
21
The vulgar person who exceeds [the mean] exceeds by spending more than is right, as has
been said. For in small expenses he spends a lot, and puts on an inappropriate display. He
gives his club a dinner party in the style of a wedding banquet, and when he supplies a chorus for a comedy, he brings them on stage dressed in purple, as they do at Megara. In all this
he aims not at the fine, but at the display of his wealth and at the admiration he thinks he
wins in this way. Where a large expense is right, he spends a little, and he spends a lot where
a small expense is right (Aristotle, EN 1123a1927).

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a way of taking someone seriously (spoudazein), and that it naturally leads to friendly feeling towards them (see Rhetoric 1381a258,
b1014); these are the responses that the ostentatious person hopes
for.
This is not the concern of the genuinely magnificent person.
Someone with this virtue tries to produce a fine result, which will
thereby be admirable.22 But the admiration that results, if people admire the right things, from a genuinely admirable action or result, is
not the virtuous persons concern.
Aristotle confirms this point in his discussion of the magnanimous person, who recognizes that honour is the greatest of external
goods, but counts honour as small in comparison to virtue
(Rhetoric 1124a1220). Since actions that result in honour also result in admiration, which is another external good, the magnanimous person does not value being admired highly either. Nor is he
especially prone to admire, because nothing is great to him
(1125a23). To understand nothing is great to him, we have to go
back to the previous remark that I cited. The magnanimous person
does not believe that virtue is of small value, and so he does not believe it is an unworthy object of admiration. When Aristotle says
nothing is great, he means that no good other than virtue is great,
because all the other goods are worth less. Similarly, then, when he
says that magnanimous people are not prone to admire, he does not
mean that they admire nothing. He means that they are not prone to
admire or to wonder at the various non-moral goods that excite
other peoples wonder and admiration. And so they will not be
prone to admire the conspicuous and impressive appearance of the
chorus dressed in purple; they will see that this misses the point of
expenditure that is meant to benefit the public. Magnanimous people, therefore, are different from other people because they do not
let uneducated feelings of admiration guide their responses to other
people and their actions.
When Aristotle says that the magnanimous person is not prone to
wonder or admiration, his remark recalls, and may be intended to
recall, the advice that is sometimes attributed to Pythagoras, mden
22

For a possession and a work (ergon) have different sorts of excellence; the most honoured possession is the one worth most, for example gold, but the most honoured work is
the one that is great and fine, since that is what is admirable to behold. Now what is magnificent is admirable, and the excellence (aret) of the work consists in its large scale
(Aristotle, Rhetoric 1123b1518).

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thaumazein.23 Democritus offers similar advice in his advocacy of


athambi. I have left this advice in Greek because it is not clear
what is ruled out when we are advised not to wonder or marvel.
Aristotle, however, gives a reasonable interpretation of such advice;
we should not be prone to admire the sorts of goods that other people admire if they are not really goods that deserve that degree of
admiration. This is why Horace claims that wondering at nothing
is the only route to happiness.24 Appropriately interpreted, this advice might be offered by Aristotle, by Epicureans, or by Stoics. As
we have seen, admiring nothing does not really mean admiring
nothing at all, but admiring none of the common, but mistaken,
objects of highest admiration. Aristotle is being quite consistent,
then, when he affirms that neither the morning nor the evening star
is as thaumaston as justice.25 Here we need to translate thaumaston by wonderful or marvellous. Aristotle and his source are
thinking of our wonder at the starry heavens above (as Kant puts
it), and at the same time of our admiration for justice, because it
combines all the virtues. This feature of justice is indeed a proper
object of thaumazein.
If I have given a reasonable expansion of Aristotles brief remarks
on ostentatious, magnificent and magnanimous people, he recognizes that admiration can mislead our moral sentiments. We can see the
same point in some of the virtues that Aristotle calls nameless.
These are cases in which people do not recognize that a mean state
23
Plutarch points out that some people misinterpret Pythagoras advice to exclude all praise
or honour. He replies that it by no means excludes these attitudes when they are appropriate: For there are many who interpret that saying of Pythagoras wrongly and inappropriately. For he declared that he had gained this from philosophy, to wonder (thaumazein) at
nothing; but these men take it to be to praise nothing and honour nothing, placing it in disdain, and seeking to be dignified (to semnon) by looking down on things. For philosophical
reasoning certainly removes the wonder (thauma) and amazement (thambos) that come
from puzzlement and ignorance by means of knowledge and inquiry into the cause of a
given thing, but it does not abolish good temper, moderation and benevolence (philanthrpon); for to those who are truly and firmly good it is the finest honour to accord honour to someone who is worthy of it (Plutarch, Moralia 44bc).
24
Nil admirari prope res est una, Numici, /solaque quae possit facere et servare beatum
[Wondering at nothing is practically the only thing, Numicius, that can make us and keep
us happy] (Horace, Epistulae i.6).
25
This type of justice, then, is complete virtue, not complete virtue without qualification,
but complete virtue in relation to another. And that is why justice often seems to be supreme
among the virtues, and neither the evening star nor the morning star is so wonderful, and
the proverb says And in justice all virtue is summed up (Aristotle, Rhetoric 1129b27
30). Aristotles source for neither is not extant. An ancient commentator attributes it to
Euripides. When Plotinus refers to this passage, he replaces thaumaston with kalon
(under the influence of the Phaedrus; see Plotinus, Enneads i.6.4.1012, vi.6.6.3742).

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is desirable, because they tend towards one of the extremes. This is


true of the virtues concerned with anger and honour. In both cases
many people suppose that someone who is willing not to pursue a
grievance or who recognizes some constraints on the desire for honour is spineless and deficient in proper pride and self-assertion. This
reaction is a familiar aspect of the traditional conception of the admirable person.
Aristotle agrees with Platos view that this traditional view needs
to be reformed. And the reform does not consist simply in presenting alternative objects for admiration. The right sort of reform has
to put admiration in a secondary place. Genuine virtue requires the
understanding of the human good that reveals the appropriate limits
of the different attitudes that may capture our admiration. Admiration is an important secondary aspect of moral understanding, but it
should not determine our moral understanding. Aristotles brief remarks on admiration do not imply that he thinks it is unimportant.
I am inclined to suggest instead that he is familiar with it, takes it
for granted, and treats it with some reserve. His reserved attitude is
easily understood in the light of the few points I have mentioned
about the pervasive role of wonder and admiration in ancient Greek
ethics.
Aristotles reservations tend to strengthen doubts about the viability of any attempt to define correct moral judgement by reference
to the proper function of admiration. We have to acquire the virtues
in order to learn what we ought to admire most (e.g. justice) and
what we ought to admire less (the goods that most people tend to
admire too much). Since virtues involve the appropriate aims, beliefs and emotions, someone who learns to be virtuous also learns to
be afraid, get angry, and admire in the right circumstances, and as
one ought. But it would be no less mistaken to try to define the virtues by reference to the proper function of admiration than it would
be to try to define them by reference to the proper function of fear,
anger, and so on.

X
Cicero on the Objects of Admiration. In order to explain and to
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is. Cicero develops the distinction that I have taken to be implicit in


Aristotle, between what is admired and what deserves to be admired
and is therefore admired by the virtuous person. I mentioned earlier
that Ciceros treatment of admiration and its corruption may be one
source of Adam Smiths discussion. But I discuss him after Smith, in
order to make it clear how his views about what is admired and
what deserves admiration disagree with Smith. In particular Cicero
rejects Smiths attempted definition of correct moral judgement by
reference to admiration.
Many instances of admirari in Cicero are properly translated
wonder at or be surprised, since they convey no positive evaluation of the relevant object.26 But some instances convey the relevant
positive evaluation and are properly rendered admire. The two
uses are connected because admiration includes some element of
surprise or amazement; the good that is admired is regarded as being greater than what one could ordinarily expect.27 This admiration, however, is not necessarily directed at moral qualities. All these
features of Ciceros use of admirari are familiar to us both from
our survey of thaumazein in Greek and from our survey of Adam
Smith on admiration.
In Ciceros view, our practices are corrupted and degraded by the
popular admiration of wealth.28 He agrees with Aristotles attack on
the ostentatious spending that is intended to secure popular admiration, and often succeeds in securing it.29 But though common views
are corruptible, Cicero does not believe they are always corrupt; for
he believes that most people are also capable of admiring virtues
even if they do not possess them. Their admiration includes surprise
that someone can overcome the tendencies to vice that cause most
26
But the just person, whom we recognize as a good man, will never take anything from
anyone to add to his own possessions. Anyone who is amazed (admiratur) by this, let him
admit that he does not know what a good man is (Cicero, De Officiis iii.75).
27
Those people, then, admire in common all the things that they notice are great and better
than they expect, And so they look up to, and raise with the highest praises, those men in
whom they think they see some outstanding and unusual abilities (virtutes); and they look
down on and despise those who they think have no ability, no spirit, no energy (Cicero, De
Officiis ii.36).
28
But conduct (mores) is ruined and degraded by admiration for wealth. How is the
amount of someones wealth relevant to any of us? (Cicero, De Officiis ii.71).
29
How much weightier and true is the reproach of Aristotle that we are not amazed at
these wasteful expenditures of money that are intended to conciliate the masses (Cicero, De
Officiis ii.56).
Here admiremur clearly does not mean admire. We ought to be amazed at this waste
of resources to gain the favour of the masses, but we are not.

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people to act wrongly on some occasions.30


For this reason the Stoics argue that only virtue deserves unqualified admiration, because it is praiseworthy; that is to say, it still deserves to be praised even if no one praises it.31 For the same reasons
it deserves admiration even if no one actually admires it; that is why
Cicero speaks of it as worthy of admiration.32 If we take admirable
to mean worthy of admiration rather than capable of being admired or likely to be admired, the Stoics take virtue to be essentially admirable. They formulate more clearly the connection that
Aristotle assumes between virtue and admiration.

XI
The Admired and the Admirable. As I mentioned at the beginning,
Zagzebski introduces some claims about the epistemology, or metaphysics, or both, of morality. At the end of her paper she comments
on the bad effects of envy and resentment:
They distort moral judgement to the extent that moral judgements depend upon judgements of admirability, and judgements of admirability
30

But the ones who are treated with admiration are those who are thought to excel others
in virtue and to be free from anything unfitting, and also from those vices that other people
cannot easily resist. For pleasures, most appealing mistresses, twist the minds of the greater
part of humanity away from virtue; and when the fires of distress are applied, most people
are terrified beyond measure. Life, death, wealth, poverty move all human beings most
strongly. Those who with a great and high mind look down on these things, good or bad
alike, and who, when some great and honourable (honesta) goal is presented to them, are
turned entirely towards it and grasped by it, then who would not admire the splendour and
beauty of virtue? And so this superiority of mind creates great admirability, and most of all
justice, from which one virtue people are called good men, seems to most people to be a
wonderful (mirifca) virtue, and quite rightly.
[Justice arouses ] confidence and admiration, because it rejcts and ignores the things
that seize and inflame most people with greed (Cicero, De Officiis ii.378).
31
Therefore all honour, all admiration, all zeal is directed towards virtue and towards the
actions that agree with virtue, and all the things in minds or carried out in action that are
called by the single name of right (honesta) (Cicero, De Finibus v.60).
From these things is formed and completed the honourable (honestum) that we are
looking for, which even if it is not widely celebrated, is still honourable, and of which we
truly say that, even if it is praised by no one, it is by nature praiseworthy (laudabile) (Cicero, De Officiis i.14).
32
For nothing is useful that is not also honourable, nor is it honourable because it is useful,
but useful because it is honourable. And so out of many admirable (amazing; mirabilibus)
examples it will be hard to state one that is either more praiseworthy or more outstanding
than this one [i.e. Regulus]. But out of all this praise of Regulus, that one thing is worthy of
admiration (amazement; admiratione) that he argued for keeping the prisoners (Cicero, De
Officiis iii.11011).
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depend upon the proper function of the disposition to admiration. (Zagzebski 2015, p. 219)

This comment raises a few questions of interpretation:


(1) Im not sure about the force of the qualifying phrase to the
extent that. It suggests that Zagzebski may not believe without reservation the claim that follows the qualifying phrase. But for present
purposes I will discuss the claim without any reservations that she
may intend, and hence without attributing the claim to her.
(2) How is depend used here? The intended relation of dependence might be psychological, epistemological, or metaphysical. If we
consider the extent to which moral judgements depend on judgements of admirability, we might conclude that sometimes we make a
moral judgementthat some action is right or permissible, or that
some character is virtuousby noticing that we judge an action or
person to be admirable. This might be a limited psychological claim.
It would not conflict with the claim that other moral judgements are
independent of judgements of admirability, and are indeed the basis
of judgements about admirability.
(3) What is meant by the claim that judgements of admirability
depend upon the proper function of the disposition to admiration? I
can see how judgements about admirability might sometimes depend psychologically on the disposition to admire certain things and
people. But I dont see the relevance of proper function in this relation of dependence. The judgements that might sometimes depend
on the proper function of the disposition to admire seem to be true
judgements of admirability, not judgements of admirability in general. Why could false judgements of admirabiltiy not result from a disposition to admire that is not functioning properly?
(4) How strong a claim is intended here? Zagzebski might be taken
to suggest, whether or not she endorses, a metaphysical claim about
the direction of dependence. We might claim that the proper function
of the disposition to admire can be identified without reference to its
tendency to produce true judgements about admirability; that true
judgements about admirability can be defined by reference to the
proper function of the disposition to admire; and that true moral
judgements are essentially products of true judgements about admirability. If this is so, true moral judgements are essentially products
of the proper function of the disposition to admire, which can be defined independently of its producing true moral judgements or true
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judgements of admirability. If this is so, the definition of true moral


judgements by reference to the disposition to admire is logically parallel to one version of a moral sense theory, which takes moral
rightness to be constituted by what the moral sense approves of.
If Zagzebski intends this fundamental role for admiration in the
constitution of true moral judgements and thereby of moral facts and
properties, she is right to believe that it ought to be a more prominent
topic of discussion in moral philosophy than it is. I dont think it is
clear either that she intends this strong claim or that she rejects it. In
any case, I believe the strong claim deserves some consideration.

XII
The Irreducibility of the Admirable. Our survey of some of the relevant historical evidence suggests an approach to this strong claim
about the definability of the admirable. It seems to me that Adam
Smith comes close to accepting the claim about the fundamental
role of admiration, and that consideration of Ciceros views helps us
to see why that claim about admiration is doubtful.
I have discussed Aristotle and Cicero after discussing Smith, in order to contrast their position with Smiths position. Both Smith and
the Stoics hold that virtue is admirable rather than admired. But
Smith takes this feature of virtue to be explicable through a reductive account. In his view, what is admirable is what is admired by an
admirer whose moral sentiments are not corrupted in the ways we
have mentioned.
Zagzebski suggests the possibility of a non-circular definition of
correct moral judgement by reference to the proper function of our
tendencies to admire. Smith shares the aim of finding this sort of
definition. He seeks to describe virtue as the outlook of someone
whose moral sentiments are not corrupted, but function properly. If
this claim is intended to define virtue, it appears to offer a reductive
account of the admirable as what is admired or would be admired
by someone whose admiration functions properly, and whose moral
sentiments are not corrupted.
This attempt at a reductive definition, however, faces familiar difficulties. Ciceros exposition of the Stoic view allows us to state a
dilemma for a reductive account: (1) We may take our normal tendencies to admire Achilles, Ajax, and so on, as the proper function
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of our disposition to admire. Even if we grant to Smith that the tendency to admire wealth and status marks a corrupt, and hence improper, exercise of admiration, we still admire people and actions
whom we ought not to admire as much as we do in the circumstances in which we admire them. In that case we have to acknowledge
that, even when admiration functions properly, it may mislead us.
(2) We may develop Smiths point further, and claim that all excessive admiration, even for Achilles and Ajax and others who deserve
some admiration, is somehow corrupted, because it is not the type
or degree of admiration that is morally appropriate. In that case, we
can avoid having to say that even properly functioning admiration
can sometimes mislead us. But we have to admit that correspondence with correct moral judgement constitutes the correctness of admiration, so that we have failed to find a reductive definition of
correct moral judgement.
I would be inclined to take the first route, partly because of the
Greek examples I have cited. Even if we recognize that not everything that is amazing or wonderful is also admirable, we might be
wise to admit that various things can be appropriately admired, even
if they are not to be admired, or not to be admired so much, from the
moral point of view. It is probably better to admit this than to try to
make properly functioning admiration coincide with what deserves
admiration from the moral point of view. While admiration is relevant to morality, we oversimplify if we try to make it agree with
morality all the way. And we ask too much of admiration if we expect it to provide some sort of foundation for correct moral judgement. We should keep moral judgement independent of admiration,
and we should not wholly subordinate admiration to morality.
Keble College
University of Oxford
Oxford ox1 3pg

uk
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