Ethics and the Awareness of Complex Individuals: Reflections on Adolf Eichmann and Oskar Schindler

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Steve Wagner


Like many philosophers who favor Aristotelian virtue ethics over more legalistic and impersonal theories like those of Kant and Mill, I claim that ethics is more a matter of cultivating the right character than of living by a set of rules based on abstract principles. True to this stance, I present a certain attitude toward others as crucial to living well. This attitude involves cultivating a powerful awareness of the intricate complexity of other people and a deep appreciation of the value of such complex beings. Also with this attitude comes a sense of relation and community inspired by our understanding that other human beings, like us, as isolated within their own perspective. In support of these views, I examine the lives of two men, Adolf Eichmann and Oskar Schindler, who help reveal the importance of this attitude and the moral tendencies it inspires.

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