What is the highest virtue

Doctrine of virtue and duty. On "Ethics 1812/13" by Friedrich Schleiermacher



1. Definition of terms: ethics, virtue, duty, the highest good

2. The content doctrine of virtue and duty
2.1 The doctrine of virtues
2.1.1 Introduction
2.1.2 The wisdom
2.1.3 Love
2.1.4 Of virtue as a skill
2.1.5 Prudence
2.1.6 Persistence
2.1.7 Conclusion
2.2 The doctrine of duties
2.2.1 Introduction
2.2.2 The legal obligation
2.2.3 The professional obligation



In today's time, in which the world with its different cultures is growing closer and closer together, the question of virtues and duties has become very important. However, the term used is displeasing. Certainly today we also speak of duties, but the concept of responsibility seems more familiar to us. So even a virtuous way of acting has a strange effect, while a morally good act is more likely to meet with recognition. So it is inevitable to first deal with the terms in the course of time. Since the doctrine of virtue and duty fall under the concept of ethics, that too needs to be clarified.

After a short summary, Schleiermacher's doctrine of virtue is presented first, then his doctrine of duties. I use the quotations as they are given.

1.0 Definition of terms: virtue, duty, ethics, "the highest good"

Hans-Jochen Gamm assumes that the concept of virtue was first mentioned by Plato in the “Politeia”. In doing so, he avoids defining virtue only by listing properties worthy of appreciation. Virtue cannot be determined by itself either, but only in the context of a society does virtue gain importance and thus enter politics. Society expresses itself “through reason, will and desires, but wisdom, bravery and prudence are assigned as virtues in this class society. Justice puts them in relation ... so that life in the polis is possible. "

Aristotle (384-322 BC), Plato's pupil, criticized this theory of ideas. He divides virtue into intellectual virtue and ethical virtue. In his historical outline, Hans-Jochen Gamm establishes an expansion of the concept of virtue to include faith, love and hope in the Middle Ages. He also refers to the ancient Greek concept of virtue, areté, which was primarily “physical fitness”.[1]

Jürgen-Eckardt Pleines formulates the Aristotelian concepts of virtue. The ethical virtue is obtained “through disposition, habit and practice (ethos)”; the dianoethical virtue is based on “insight and judgment (dianoia)”. So the concept of ethics is not aimed at an absolute norm, but rather as a piece of advice for a “reasonable” course of action that can be achieved through prudence.[2]

Ludwig Siep describes the ethics of duty as the rules for interaction between individuals. The focus is on the duties that people have towards one another. “Acting well means fulfilling these duties”. All interests of the parties involved are to be taken into account in the same way and rated equally. This claim also applies to the state.[3]

Hans-Eduard Hengstenberg points out that ethics is not the same as morality. Ethics seeks norms in order to form an image of the morality that has always been there. Ethics is a standardization of behavior, doing and not doing.[4]

A major component of Schleiermacher's ethics is the doctrine of the highest good. The highest good is also addressed in the doctrine of virtue. Since the discussion about it would go beyond the scope of the present work, I use the definition of Gunter Scholtz: “... the doctrine of the highest good as the epitome of all goods. The goods are the forms of culture and community: state, church, sociability, family, community of knowledge; and the highest good is the epitome of history-realizing morality.[5]

2.0 On the content of the doctrine of virtues and duties

Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher was born in Breslau on November 21, 1768 and died in Berlin on February 12, 1834. He was a Protestant theologian and philosopher. He is known as one of the founders of the hermeneutic method in the humanities, but little is reported about his thoughts on ethics.

The experiences of the French Revolution of 1789 also left their mark on Schleiermacher. His efforts to separate church and state as a theologian can certainly be understood on the basis of these experiences. Likewise, the laying down of the crown of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1806 by the emperor, which ended the empire, probably caused him to think about virtue and duty. Because if the society of the country cannot see itself as a national unit, then it can be helpful for society to profess a moral education through virtues and duties in order to become “free”.

The subject of one of Schleiermacher's first scientific papers was ethics. First he dealt with the Aristotelian ethics, then with the ethics of Kant. He has given eight lectures on (philosophical) ethics. Six of them at the University of Wilhelm von Humboldt, newly established in 1810, in Berlin. The complete draft of the doctrine of virtue and a partial draft of the doctrine of duties were created in connection with the lecture of 1812/13. The complete elaboration of the doctrine of duties is not clearly clarified. Both the work phase 1816/17 and 1814/15 come into consideration.[6]

With the “doctrine of virtue” and “doctrine of duties” he takes up the forms in which ethics has historically been treated. In the doctrine of virtues the power of moral action is thematized and in the doctrine of duties the moral behavior. Hans-Joachim Birkner adds the “doctrine of the highest good” to these two teachings. He is of the opinion that Schleiermacher sees these three teachings as complementary to one another.[7]

Hans-Jochen Gamm sees Schleiermacher as a “representative of an educational idea of ​​the bourgeoisie”. Schleiermacher combines education with ethics and politics, whereby the education of the human being penetrates into the political field. “Society could no longer rely solely on the redemption of God, but as determined by human activity, dependent on the will of political forces. To develop this will seemed to be the most important socio-educational task. "[8]

Now the question arises, what distinguishes Schleiermacher's doctrine of virtues and what is the doctrine of duties?


[1] see Gamm, Hans-Jochen, Weinheim, 1988, p.83.

[2] see Pleines, Jürgen-Eckardt, Hildesheim, 1992, pp. 353-354.

[3] see Siep, Ludwig, Opladen, 1997, p.6.

[4] see Hengstenberg, Hans-Eduard, Würzburg, 1989, p. 19.

[5] Schotz, Gunter, Frankfurt am Main, 1995, p. 27.

[6] see Birkner, Hans-Joachim, Hamburg, 1990, pp. XV and XXII.

[7] see ibid., p. XI.

[8] see Gamm, Hans-Jochen, Weinheim, 1988, p.13.

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